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Labour MEPs accused over foot and mouth study


By Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent
(Filed: 18/11/2002)

Labour members of the European Parliament are attempting to remove key criticisms of the Government's handling of the foot and mouth crisis from a report by the only full independent inquiry into the epidemic.

The European Parliament's committee on foot and mouth disease will begin finalising its inquiry today when it meets in Strasbourg to vote on 273 amendments to the draft report published last month.

But leading members of the committee said Labour MEPs led by Gordon Adam have been pressurising Wolfgang Kreissl-Dorfer, the committee's raporteur, to remove the main recommendation that vaccination be used as the primary tool against future outbreaks.

Labour MEPs, who voted against setting up the EU investigation and who went to great lengths to emphasise it was "not an inquiry but a temporary committee set up to investigate the lessons to be learned," have also been campaigning to have key passages of evidence removed from the report.

The lengthy verbatim evidence taken from farmers and locals during visits to Cumbria, Wales and the West Country was regarded by many on the committee as vital testimony on the full social and psychological effects of an epidemic that brought the countryside to a standstill.

Caroline Lucas, vice-president of the inquiry committee, said socialist MEPs had been pressurising "the committee to adopt compromise amendment 10, which calls for slaughter of animals to be given consideration on a par with vaccination in future outbreaks".

She added: "That to many of us is a make or break amendment. It would be devastating if it went through and would completely emasculate the report.

"We chose the words suggesting vaccination as a tool of first resort with care, using the same phrase as in the Royal Society's report into foot and mouth. To change this completely undermines all our recommendations and makes it incoherent as it will not fit into the logical argument of the report."

She said the evidence taken from visits to areas affected by foot and mouth was a vital contribution. "Many of us were shocked by what we saw and heard. People were relieved to see some of the psychological evidence included."

Mrs Lucas said Labour MEPs are also lobbying for compromise amendment 4 to be included, which implies that the contiguous cull policy was instrumental in controlling the epidemic.

"We found the contiguous cull had little effect in reducing the spread. It was the involvement of the Army and the identification of dangerous contacts that were instrumental. We are trying to make it clear that the number of cases was already in decline when the contiguous cull was implemented."

Robert Sturdy, a Tory MEP and farmer, said: "We are convinced now that the contiguous cull was not instrumental in controlling the outbreak.

"We support culling, but only for infected animals, the herds they came from and known dangerous contacts. We will oppose any amendment to support contiguous culling, not least because it was illegal under British law."