FMD Plenary Intervention December 2002
I'd like to congratulate the Rapporteur on his Report, which I believe to be an extremely important piece of work. I think it is vital that this Parliament gives a very strong signal to say that, in any future outbreak, vaccination should be "a tool of first resort" - and I'm very glad that that is the conclusion our committee has come to.
I'm glad, too, that we support a change in the law so that there is no automatic incentive to slaughter rather than vaccinate - that we have recognised that, in Britain, over 10 million animals were slaughtered - many unnecessarily - because priority was given to the narrow economic goal of regaining export status as quickly as possible.
I believe it is right and proper that we make constructive proposals for the future handling of FMD outbreaks.
But I also believe that is right that we are strongly critical of the past handling of FMD, where that is called for. I therefore disagree with the Rapporteur that it is " inappropriate and unjustified" to criticise the British government. Such criticism reflects the evidence we have heard - and if we do not learn from the past, there is no guarantee of better action in future.
And for that reason, I am saddened and dismayed by attempts from the British Government to water down this Report, to rewrite history, and to whitewash the past.
The Socialist Group amendments closely follow a briefing which has been sent out by the British government to all UK MEPs which argues, for example:
1. That there is no evidence for allegations of violations to animal welfare during the mass slaughter. That is quite simply untrue. I would remind them of evidence given by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to the National Audit Office Inquiry, which says:
"in many cases there was very good circumstantial evidence that an offence had been committed".
The government argues that a veterinary inspector was present at all slaughters. But we know that often those inspectors were charged with monitoring up to 10 slaughter sites at the same time - a clearly impossible task.
If I had time I could go on with countless examples - And they are echoed by vets up and down the country.
2. The government denies that farmers were intimidated and pressurised in connection with the culls, and criticise the committee for providing no evidence. Well we have evidence in plenty if they need it. And one of the reasons that the committee specifically visited Knowstone in Devon was to gather evidence on that very subject
3. They allege the Lessons Learned Inquiry showed that the contiguous cull was effective in curbing the disease. Again, not true. The NAO Office demonstrated that epidemic had already peaked before the contiguous culling policies could have had any effect.
4. They allege that the firebreak or pre-emptive culling was legal. Not true. In the UK's new contingency plan, it makes clear that a "firebreak cull" requires, I quote "passage of the Animal Health Bill".
The Bill had not been passed last year, therefore such provision did not exist for a legally enforceable, mandatory firebreak cull.
I believe that people would have a lot more respect for the government if it could just bring itself to admit that it got things wrong.
For as long as it doesn't, then there can be no guarantee that - in the event of any other outbreak - the government won't act in the same way again.
I hope this Report will be another step in the process of ensuring that such devastation can never be allowed to happen again - either in the United Kingdom, or anywhere else in the European Union.