Excellent letter in today's Cumberland News: November 16th 2001


I was intrigued by the quote by Animal Health Minister Elliot Morley in the story headed "Foot and mouth: New rules 'trying to shift blame to farmers' " (The Cumberland News, November 2): "78 per cent of the spread of foot and mouth was local." In a crisis devoid of meaningful information, control of spread or general quality leadership from the ministry the figure of 78 per cent seemed very exact.

Was it scientifically proven, or merely the number on the front of a passing bus?

I am a farmer who, thankfully, missed the disease. My involvement was merely looking on, trying to dodge the virus.

You might be interested to know I also think that there was a great deal of local spread.

The ministry set out their stall very early in the crisis to pigeon hole every farm. We had A farms, D farms, E farms, FM7s, hot spots, the Penrith Spur, red box, blue box, lanes and roll back, probably some I've missed and some I didn't know about.

Mine was a D farm, 3km from an IP (infected premise). I went on to D form restrictions on March 8; when they were lifted on September 10 I had been in 19 separate 3km infected zones.

Some think I had a miraculous escape. However, I now feel as able as Mr Morley, perhaps more so, to make comments about the spread of the disease.

March 10 was when I really sat up and took notice of foot and mouth when my neighbours directly across the road delivered the devastating news that this awful disease was in our village. They reported their suspect animal on a Friday morning. After many inspections and phone calls to Page Street, London, they were confirmed positive.

Now the full might of Maff descended on our sleepy village. Someone was put in charge, valuers were summoned, a shepherd to gather the sheep. Slaughtermen. A pyre was built, disposal staff arranged. The cattle were slaughtered on Monday evening, the sheep on Tuesday morning.

How much virus was breathed out during these four days? The fire was lit on Wednesday evening. During all this time the person in charge was present checking and double checking arrangements.

Each morning he parked his car in the farm entrance, which forced every other visitor to park on the pavements in front of the farmhouse and on several occasions across the front of my drive.

All of these vehicles were moving day after day. Several times I sprayed car wheels and parking spaces outside my drive. Was this the first biosecurity point in Cumbria? When did the ministry, in all its wisdom, think of doing this?

When the fire was eventually lit fortunately I wasn't hit too much with smoke, but when I was I sprayed disinfectant through my power washer into the cattle housing.

Case two in Kirkbampton was my adjacent neighbour and I had cattle housed 14 metres apart. I was also wintering sheep for him when foot and mouth started and we got caught up in the movement ban. His is a very scattered farm and he had been forced to leave the steading every day to feed off-lying stock. He kept one tractor outside the farm gate especially for this task and he also had wellies, boiler suit and jacket just for outside work. The virus struck in some of this off-lying stock.

He reported his suspicions on a Sunday. Maff rushed to inspect and diagnose on Monday! Positive case. His was the first farm in Cumbria to have Army supervision. Slaughter and burial was hurriedly arranged for Thursday, five days from the first phone call.

However, due to his carefulness both the veterinary and slaughter staff were sure that the virus hadn't entered his yard and that his housed stock next to mine were clear, although everything had to be slaughtered.

The person in charge of this case went home each night to a clean farming area. It didn't stay clean much longer!

When my third neighbour succumbed he created a different problem. His main holding is in the centre of the village but he also has a smaller holding a mile along the public highway. He was instructed he would have a fire for disposal beside the building away from the village. Dead stock were now being laid out in rows in fields awaiting disposal. My neighbour said if the cattle were dragged into the field and then collected and removed to the pyre site there would be a probability of fouling the road.

Could he load them directly into trailers at the farm gate and move them immediately to the fire site?
Don't worry, he was told, we'll soon shift them. After the fire was built the disposal team ran in and out of his field and there was mud on the road for hundreds of yards through the village. How many cars ran through this potential spread zone?

Then, of course, there was the ministry's own hot spot; Rosehill industrial estate, Carlisle. Everything was centralised around the Animal Health headquarters. At the peak of the disease there must have been dozens, if not hundreds, coming and going.

The car parks couldn't cope, so people were parking down the road at a Tesco store.

When did the ministry think about installing a disinfectant bath for cars?

How many ministry staff and cars mingled with shoppers in this 24 hour-opening superstore?

We had hoped for Maff magicians to make the disease disappear. It sometimes seemed as if all we'd got at Rosehill was Maff mathematicians who measured the spread of the disease and counted the cost of the devastation.

Yes, Mr Morley, there would be local spread of this vile disease. There would be some innocent unwitting spread where friends and family pool labour and resources.

But someone on the inside looking out, as I was, can only thank the locals for their thoughtfulness and good wishes, both farming and non-farming.

Any finger pointing of blame would be pointed firmly at the people who arrived to work in the locality and especially at those guiding them.

I can say in all honesty that I feel I survived foot and mouth in spite of ministry supervision, and not because of it.

There seems to be a deliberate campaign to blame the farmers for the disease and to turn the public against the farmers with outrageous claims of huge financial gain. Sunday's papers carry reports by MPs of compensation payments for stock creating "fat cat" farmer millionaires.

British farmers should be commended for producing top quality, cheap food, not be the subjects of contempt.

When MPs are looking for scapegoats they shouldn't link country people with fat cats. The cats in the countryside are rather like the people, lean and hungry and used to working for their supper.