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Western Morning News
 

GOVERNMENT MUST NOT IGNORE EUROPE'S DAMNING VERDICT 




09:00 - 21 November 2002 

 
Conservative agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament NEIL PARISH, himself a Somerset farmer, yesterday joined other MEPs in voting through a damning report of the Government's handling of foot and mouth

Yesterday, the European Parliament delivered a damning report into the Government's handling of last year's foot and mouth outbreak. The adoption of the document compiled by a cross-party group of MEPs from across Europe and written by a German Socialist MEP marks the final stages of a year-long investigation by Brussels.

What has surprised those who have seen it is the strength of the stinging criticisms of the Government's attempts to control the disease. Tony Blair may have many allies in Europe, but no one there believes he got it right last year.

As a member of that inquiry, and as one of the people who fought to set it up in the first place, I am pleased that we have been able to produce such a hard-hitting report, and that we were able to make a number of positive recommendations for the future. That is nothing less than the farmers, businessmen and rural communities deserved, and it is a shame that they should be forced to look to Europe for help.

I am not suggesting for one moment that this is anything other than second best to a full and independent inquiry in the United Kingdom but, quite simply, we were able to discover the evidence that Mr Blair did not want you to hear.

It is to this Government's shame that it has never provided sufficient answers; that it has not given the rural community an opportunity to air their views or discover the real truth.

It is little wonder that having fought the inquiry tooth and nail out in Brussels, Labour MEPs were furious that such an embarrassing report has been produced. EU documents are not known for their plain speaking or for saying what they mean, but this report pulls no punches in its criticisms of the Government.

Key to that criticism is the treatment of those farmers who had their animals killed in the mass cull, which according to the inquiry, was ten million animals slaughtered.

I have no doubt that the reason for coming to this conclusion was the visit to here in the South West. When Nick Brown and Margaret Beckett came to give evidence, in their usual arrogant way they dismissed the claims of harassment by Government from farmers as isolated incidents, blown all out of proportion. This view was comprehensively destroyed by one two-hour meeting in a little village hall in the South West.

Many of you will know the terrible tale of the bungled cull in Knowstone; it was a shocking but not isolated tale. But the MEPs who attended a packed meeting were visibly shocked by the evidence we heard from the farmers and locals. The emotional and charged tales moved some to tears. They were not the politically-motivated opinions of people wanting to attack the Government, as the Labour press machine tried to paint them.

They were just honest, straightforward people recounting a horrific chapter in the history of their village, and they left the MEPs in stunned silence when we boarded the coach to our next meeting in Okehampton.

As one farmer said to the committee: "I feared a knock on the door from a MAFF official more than I feared the disease itself.". I believe that one meeting did more than anything else to bring home the realities, and it has undoubtedly shaped the future policies of the EU.

The plain and startling truth is that the UK was woefully unprepared for an outbreak of FMD, and recklessly ignored warnings from the experts. While the total number of outbreaks in the UK was more than 2,000, our contingency plan was for ten. Couple this with the dramatic cuts in vets, the inept decision not to impose an immediate movement ban and a Government which was unprepared to listen to the people on the ground, and it is little wonder that the disease spiralled out of control.

What is also clear to the committee is that the pointless slaughter of ten million animals must never be repeated. There are harsh criticisms about breaches of animal welfare during the cull, and real questions about its effectiveness in stopping the disease. Certainly Europe is not prepared to allow the mass pyres and hastily constructed burial pits that were witnessed on our TV screens.

This document makes clear that vaccination must be the first tool in our armoury for fighting the disease. No matter how Mrs Beckett tries to spin it, the MEPs were convinced that vaccination was ignored in the UK, and will not let that mistake be made again.

However, it is now time for us to look to the future for our farmers and our agriculture. The report makes a series of recommendations to ensure that we stop the disease from happening again, and it is vital that they are implemented.

The European Commission has already agreed to the urgent demand by the inquiry to close a loophole which allows passengers travelling from abroad to bring potentially contaminated meat into Europe. It agrees with us that the risk to our farmers and our animals is just too great. Among a long list of new steps within the report is the need to tighten up our import controls and our checks at airports; the need to put in place a proper contingency plan, and to make sure that we have the necessary resources and personnel available to cope should we be hit with another outbreak.

For once I can say that on the whole Europe has got it right, and I am grateful for that. They have looked at the evidence, and have came to an honest and objective conclusion.

That the conclusion is that the Government handled the whole thing with arrogance and insensitivity - more concerned with winning an impending election than protecting our countryside - should be a huge embarrassment for Mr Blair. That the damage and devastation of a terrible disease was exacerbated by his mistakes will rightly cause outrage.

But the thought that Labour can ignore this report is simply unacceptable. The common complaint that this Government does not listen must not be repeated with such an important document or such a vital issue. We must learn these lessons; we must not let it happen again.

Are you listening, Mrs Beckett?

 

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MEPs rap Britain's handling of foot and mouth crisis

By George Parker in Strasbourg and Jean Eaglesham in London
Published: November 21 2002 4:00 | Last Updated: November 21 2002 4:00

Britain's handling of the foot and mouth crisis was rapped yesterday by the
European parliament, which demanded that emergency vaccination should be the
"first choice option" in any outbreak.

A report by MEPs said it was no longer acceptable to carry out the kind of
mass culls seen in Britain. It calls on EU governments to reverse the policy
where vaccination is the last resort. "Mass culling on the scale seen in the
UK and the Netherlands will not be publicly acceptable again," it says.
"Alternative control strategies are therefore essential."

The report, by the parliament's special foot and mouth committee, says that
bureaucracy, delays in decision-making and the lack of effective contingency
plans caused problems in Britain. It calls for the EU to play a bigger role
in co-ordinating the response to outbreaks and for member states to take
into account the social and psychological impact to communities in any mass
slaughter of livestock.

"A common European strategy is needed, both on border checks and the use of
vaccination," said Nick Clegg, a British MEP on the committee. "This is an
example of where Europe is relevant and can play an essential role when
politics and pride prevent a national government from taking full
responsibility."

Among the report's other conclusions were a call for much tougher action
against illegal meat imports and controls on imports from countries where
foot and mouth disease is endemic.

Challenged to apologise for the government's handling of the crisis,
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, said yesterday "we have
acknowledged, and acknowledged very fully, that unquestionably mistakes were
made". But she added a plea on behalf of her department's civil servants.

"What you had were literally tens of thousands of people struggling to do
their best in an absolutely impossible position, which none of them ever
envisaged when they entered public service," Mrs Beckett said.

Not all the measures advocated by experts to improve the handling of a
future outbreak would be easy to implement, ministers have warned. Many
would face resistance from the public or farmers or both.

Mrs Beckett admitted that if the government had "known then what we know
now" it would have banned animal movements as soon as the disease was
detected.

 




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 WON'T APOLOGISE FOR FOOT AND MOUTH

Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett yesterday refused to apologise for
the Government foot-and-mouth mistakes which cost Britain billions.

She also hinted control of illegal meat imports may be handed over to the
Food Standards Agency in a bid to better protect the UK.

Mrs Beckett got her job after the 2001 General Election, so was not
personally responsible for errors in the first few months of the outbreak,
which began in February that year.

But she was in the Cabinet at the time, and was yesterday invited to
"apologise for the Government's disastrous handling of the outbreak". She
said: "We have acknowledged, and acknowledged very fully I think, that
unquestionably mistakes were made.

"But what you had was tens of thousands of people struggling to do their
best in an absolutely impossible situation, which none of them could have
envisaged."

Criticism of the handling of the epidemic centres on the failure to get the
Army involved earlier, the lack of a vaccination policy and the absence of
an animal movement ban in the first crucial days.

Mrs Beckett said with hindsight, a national movement ban would have been
imposed on day one.



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HOPELESSLY UNPREPARED


11:00 - 21 November 2002

Major flaws in disease control left Britain hopelessly exposed to
foot-and-mouth when the disease struck last year, a top-level European
report revealed last night.

In the most damning indictment yet of Britain's handling of the epidemic,
the document criticises the Government for being ill-prepared and of
reacting too slowly when the first case was identified in late February.

Once the disease was established, efforts to control it were hampered by
poor communication, the Army was mobilised too late and too few vets were
available.

There were breaches of animal welfare regulations during the slaughter of
the estimated 10million animals and the system of compensation was unfair.

The report, drawn up by a European Parliament committee of inquiry, has
called on the European Union to strengthen protection against foot-and-mouth
by banning imports from countries where it is endemic.

South West MEP Neil Parish, Conservative agriculture spokesman in the
European Parliament, said the Government must learn from farmers'
experiences.

He said: "The inquiry team travelled the country listening to people,
listening to their views and their experiences. Some of what we heard was
awful. One farmer from the Forest of Dean said most people there were more
in fear of a Maff [now Defra] official appearing at the door than they were
of the disease themselves.

"So far, it seems the Government has not listened to any of this. Now is
time to do so."

A State Veterinary Service report in 1999 showed contingency plans for an
outbreak of foot-and-mouth were suffering from "considerable shortcomings".
But hardly anything was done to implement the report's recommendations
before the crisis arose.

Although the disease was first confirmed on February 20, the Government
waited until February 23, 2001, before banning animal movements.

The report said: "This delay caused a considerable increase in the number of
cases. In retrospect, an immediate ban on movements of FMD-susceptible
animals would have been appropriate when the first case was detected."

It continued: "The handling of the epidemic was characterised by a lack of
co-ordination between veterinary and policy staff within the Veterinary
Service and between the regions and the centre. This led to difficulties in
implementing the Government's control strategy."

The number of full-time state veterinary staff was reduced by half in the
preceding 20 years and the closure of local veterinary centres resulted in a
loss of knowledge of local conditions.

The report said: "This has weakened the capacity for responding to the
crisis, particularly as the number of livestock has increased significantly
over the same period.

"At the beginning of the epidemic, there were not enough staff to cope with
the rapidly growing number of infected farms and carry out inspection and
eradication measures."

The report said earlier use of the Army would have reduced the backlog of
carcasses to be disposed and the distress experienced by farmers.

It added that unnecessary suffering had been inflicted on animals because
staff had not been adequately trained.

Because of this, the committee said vaccination must be considered as a
first step in any future outbreak.

It is calling on the EC to look at setting up an insurance scheme to cover
livestock diseases, possibly with contributions from livestock farmers.

It said it was "unacceptable" that only farmers whose animals were culled
should receive compensation while others were compelled to foot the bill for
their own losses.



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EURO CALL IS LIKELY TO FALL ON DEAF EARS

10:17 - 21 November 2002

 Calls for all businesses hit by the Government's handling of animal disease
outbreaks to be compensated for their losses look unlikely to be heeded
despite the backing yesterday of the European Parliament team investigating
last year's foot and mouth crisis.

The total bill to the taxpayer for last year's crisis was #2.7 billion, of
which around #1.5 billion was compulsory compensation to farmers for the
slaughter of their animals.

Throughout the crisis, Ministers refused to contemplate paying compensation
to the thousands of other businesses hit by the disaster.

If they had, some estimates suggest the final bill would have topped #5
billion.

This is far higher than it might have been had the Government not made key
errors, such as ordering the blanket closure of the countryside and allowing
the use of mass pyres which scared away many tourists.

The result of these actions was that the huge rural tourism industry dried
up overnight in affected areas like the Westcountry. Others who were badly
hit but unable to claim compensation included agricultural suppliers,
haulage firms, livestock markets, and farmers whose animals did not contract
the disease but which were trapped by tight movement restrictions.

Ministers now insist they have a better understanding of the links between
farming and other rural businesses like tourism and that the effects of a
future outbreak would be less severe as the countryside would not be closed
down and pyres would not be used.

But in any case the Government has already indicated that it is looking to
limit even the compulsory compensation paid to farmers in any future disease
outbreak, never mind reconsidering the case for compensation to other
affected industries.

In its response to inquiry reports into last year's outbreak, the Government
indicated it would be looking to force farmers to pay a compulsory disease
levy to meet part of the cost of any future compensation claim.

Earlier this month Farms Minister Lord Whitty told the WMN: "The public in
general would not accept a situation where the taxpayer bore the whole
burden."




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FARMERS NOT LAUGHING AT BECKETT 'JOKE'


10:17 - 21 November 2002

 Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett last night faced fresh calls to
resign after cracking a "joke" about the culling of livestock, which was
immediately condemned as "deeply offensive" by Westcountry farmers who
suffered during last year's foot and mouth crisis.

Speaking at a lunch for parliamentary reporters in London yesterday, Mrs
Beckett altered the nursery rhyme "Mary had a little lamb" to give it an
ending in which the lamb was slaughtered after contracting a disease and
Mary paid compensation.

Mrs Beckett "joked" that before being appointed as Secretary of State she
had, "never realised that so many things could go wrong with so many animals
for so many reasons".

She added: "It is a good job my grandchildren are past the age of nursery
rhymes or it would have to go something like: 'Mary had a little lamb, it's
fleece was white as snow; but it had scrapie and encephalopathy and had to
be destroyed. Mary will, of course, be compensated.'"

Westcountry farmers caught up in last year's foot and mouth crisis were last
night angry that Mrs Beckett considered the culling of animals a joking
matter. Exmoor farmer Guy Thomas-Everard, who successfully fought Government
attempts to cull his herd of 1,000 pedigree cattle, said that if she refused
to apologise she should be forced to resign.

He said: "It is deeply offensive, even more so to people who did have their
stock taken. Some people committed suicide as a result of what happened and
she should have that in mind before she tries to make jokes. She must hold
us in utter contempt.

"I don't know whether she was trying to play to the gallery, but it appears
to be a deliberate insult. She certainly ought to apologise, and if that is
not forthcoming she should consider her position."

Alan Beat, a smallholder from North Devon, also took offence at Mrs
Beckett's attempt at humour. Mr Beat, who resisted attempts to cull his
sheep during foot and mouth, said it was in particularly poor taste given
that Defra last year came close to ordering the slaughter of the entire
national sheep flock on the basis of a flawed BSE experiment.

"It makes me grimace," he said. "This is not a joking matter. For her to
make light of it in that way just illustrates a complete lack of
understanding of the issues and a lack of feeling for those who suffered."

More than six million animals were slaughtered during last year's crisis,
although only a tiny minority are thought to have actually had foot and
mouth disease. The new Animal Health Act, which became law this month, gives
Ministers sweeping powers to order the slaughter of livestock in any future
outbreak and to control the spread of the BSE-like disease scrapie.

Mrs Beckett is no stranger to controversy, having "joked" earlier this year
about having to "cull" her appointments diary if she was to fit in a visit
to the site of a bungled cull at Knowstone in Devon.

Yesterday she also excused her lack of visits to the countryside since being
appointed by stressing the number of international summits she had to
attend. And she "made no apology" for concentrating her time in the UK on
visits to her Derby constituency.



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PAYOUT FOR FOOT AND MOUTH MAY COST #5BN

 MATTHEW ROBINSON

10:17 - 21 November 2002

 The decision by the European Parliament to recommend compensation for all
people affected by foot and mouth was yesterday roundly welcomed in the
Westcountry - but with the warning that the recommendation must not be
ignored.

The EU report, which was heavily critical of the Government's handling of
the epidemic, said not just farmers who lost livestock should be
compensated, but other affected industries - such as tourism and other rural
businesses connected to agriculture - should also be reimbursed.

This means that Devon and Cornwall, which were badly affected by the disease
last year, could see massive benefits if the Government agrees to uphold the
recommendation.

Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council and a member
of the Rural Task Force set up to investigate the handling of FMD, said the
bill for the Treasury could be as much as #5 billion.

"This is absolutely brilliant news - it is something that we have been
asking for a very long time now," he said.

"We were told about two months ago that there would be a statement on
compensation for all before Christmas, and it is pleasing that they have
managed to do that.

"When we were looking into foot and mouth, the Rural Task Force was
considering compensation for people besides farmers who had been affected by
the disease, and I campaigned long and hard for that to be taken up.

"We already know that in the UK the farmers who had livestock culled were
compensated to the tune of #1 billion.

"The estimates for that figure for Form D restricted farmers and all the
associated businesses which were affected could be three to five times
that - I think you could be looking at #5 billion as a figure needed for
this, and in Devon, which was very badly affected, we should get a large
chunk of that money.

"The Treasury now has to be seen to be putting its hand in its pocket and
paying these people, and the Government is going to hate that.

"But they have to do it, and we will be pushing them to uphold the
recommendation. If they don't compensate the people affected, then it will
be vindication of the fact that this Government is abandoning the rural
economy and turning a blind eye to the mess the rural areas are in."

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of South West Tourism, also welcomed the
recommendation from the EU.

But he said that for tourism businesses in the region to be adequately
compensated, insurance companies needed to use the business interruption
mechanism of compensation to ensure there was a fair deal.

"I welcome this news but we have to make sure that our affected businesses
do see the compensation," he said.

"About two or three years ago, insurance companies removed animal diseases
from their policies, so that tourism businesses could not claim if they had
been affected by them.

"But if they go by the business interruption mechanism, then everyone in the
tourism industry in the Westcountry who was affected should get the right
amount of compensation.

"I welcome the recommendation by the EU, but I do hope that insurance
companies go by the business interruption mechanism."

The report says current compensation practices are unjust for foot and
mouth, stating that it should not only be farmers who have had animals
culled who should be reimbursed.

It also adds that the system of compensation for losses arising from foot
and mouth must be "decided at European level and apply to all Member States
in order to avoid distortions of competition".

It says: "It is unacceptable that only farmers - in whose interest the
non-vaccination policy is being pursued - should receive compensation for
livestock lost in a foot and mouth outbreak, while other farmers and those
in other sectors of the economy, particularly tourism and sport, are
compelled to foot the bill for their own losses arising from this policy.

"The rules on compensation need to be reviewed in light of this. It can be
argued convincingly that when the broader economy is compensated for losses
that arise from control measures adopted, then vaccination-to-live is the
only affordable policy.

"Furthermore it is clear that any compensation system should be designed to
positively reward compliance with control measures, if the encouragement of
non-compliance by an unjust system is to be avoided."



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SHAME ON YOU

 JAMIE MCGINNES

10:17 - 21 November 2002

 The Government was savaged by the European Parliament yesterday for its
"shameful" handling of the foot and mouth crisis.

A report by the parliament's' foot and mouth inquiry said farmers were
intimidated, procedures ignored and laws flouted during last year's
outbreak.

And in a ground-breaking move, the exhaustive inquiry - the first to be
truly independent of the Government - said it was "unacceptable" and
"unjust" that compensation had not been given to everyone who suffered as a
result of the crisis.

It called for a better vaccination policy and tighter safeguards against
meat imports.

Neil Parish, Westcountry MEP and Conservative agriculture spokesman in the
European Parliament, said the report was a "devastating" indictment of the
UK's handling of the outbreak.

"Almost every line of this report should shame the Government," he added.

"It is no surprise that the Government has done everything in its powers to
hide this evidence from the British people."

John Burnett, Liberal Democrat MP for Torridge and West Devon - the area
worst affected by foot and mouth - said: "The Government grossly mismanaged
the catastrophe. Tens of thousands of animals were killed - most of them
unnecessarily."

MEP Gordon Adam, Labour's agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament,
abstained from the vote, defiantly claiming that the report contained
errors.

And as the report was released, Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett
faced fresh calls to resign after cracking a "joke" about the culling of
livestock.




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GOVERNMENT MUST NOT IGNORE EUROPE'S DAMNING VERDICT


09:00 - 21 November 2002

 Conservative agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament NEIL PARISH,
himself a Somerset farmer, yesterday joined other MEPs in voting through a
damning report of the Government's handling of foot and mouth

Yesterday, the European Parliament delivered a damning report into the
Government's handling of last year's foot and mouth outbreak. The adoption
of the document compiled by a cross-party group of MEPs from across Europe
and written by a German Socialist MEP marks the final stages of a year-long
investigation by Brussels.

What has surprised those who have seen it is the strength of the stinging
criticisms of the Government's attempts to control the disease. Tony Blair
may have many allies in Europe, but no one there believes he got it right
last year.

As a member of that inquiry, and as one of the people who fought to set it
up in the first place, I am pleased that we have been able to produce such a
hard-hitting report, and that we were able to make a number of positive
recommendations for the future. That is nothing less than the farmers,
businessmen and rural communities deserved, and it is a shame that they
should be forced to look to Europe for help.

I am not suggesting for one moment that this is anything other than second
best to a full and independent inquiry in the United Kingdom but, quite
simply, we were able to discover the evidence that Mr Blair did not want you
to hear.

It is to this Government's shame that it has never provided sufficient
answers; that it has not given the rural community an opportunity to air
their views or discover the real truth.

It is little wonder that having fought the inquiry tooth and nail out in
Brussels, Labour MEPs were furious that such an embarrassing report has been
produced. EU documents are not known for their plain speaking or for saying
what they mean, but this report pulls no punches in its criticisms of the
Government.

Key to that criticism is the treatment of those farmers who had their
animals killed in the mass cull, which according to the inquiry, was ten
million animals slaughtered.

I have no doubt that the reason for coming to this conclusion was the visit
to here in the South West. When Nick Brown and Margaret Beckett came to give
evidence, in their usual arrogant way they dismissed the claims of
harassment by Government from farmers as isolated incidents, blown all out
of proportion. This view was comprehensively destroyed by one two-hour
meeting in a little village hall in the South West.

Many of you will know the terrible tale of the bungled cull in Knowstone; it
was a shocking but not isolated tale. But the MEPs who attended a packed
meeting were visibly shocked by the evidence we heard from the farmers and
locals. The emotional and charged tales moved some to tears. They were not
the politically-motivated opinions of people wanting to attack the
Government, as the Labour press machine tried to paint them.

They were just honest, straightforward people recounting a horrific chapter
in the history of their village, and they left the MEPs in stunned silence
when we boarded the coach to our next meeting in Okehampton.

As one farmer said to the committee: "I feared a knock on the door from a
MAFF official more than I feared the disease itself.". I believe that one
meeting did more than anything else to bring home the realities, and it has
undoubtedly shaped the future policies of the EU.

The plain and startling truth is that the UK was woefully unprepared for an
outbreak of FMD, and recklessly ignored warnings from the experts. While the
total number of outbreaks in the UK was more than 2,000, our contingency
plan was for ten. Couple this with the dramatic cuts in vets, the inept
decision not to impose an immediate movement ban and a Government which was
unprepared to listen to the people on the ground, and it is little wonder
that the disease spiralled out of control.

What is also clear to the committee is that the pointless slaughter of ten
million animals must never be repeated. There are harsh criticisms about
breaches of animal welfare during the cull, and real questions about its
effectiveness in stopping the disease. Certainly Europe is not prepared to
allow the mass pyres and hastily constructed burial pits that were witnessed
on our TV screens.

This document makes clear that vaccination must be the first tool in our
armoury for fighting the disease. No matter how Mrs Beckett tries to spin
it, the MEPs were convinced that vaccination was ignored in the UK, and will
not let that mistake be made again.

However, it is now time for us to look to the future for our farmers and our
agriculture. The report makes a series of recommendations to ensure that we
stop the disease from happening again, and it is vital that they are
implemented.

The European Commission has already agreed to the urgent demand by the
inquiry to close a loophole which allows passengers travelling from abroad
to bring potentially contaminated meat into Europe. It agrees with us that
the risk to our farmers and our animals is just too great. Among a long list
of new steps within the report is the need to tighten up our import controls
and our checks at airports; the need to put in place a proper contingency
plan, and to make sure that we have the necessary resources and personnel
available to cope should we be hit with another outbreak.

For once I can say that on the whole Europe has got it right, and I am
grateful for that. They have looked at the evidence, and have came to an
honest and objective conclusion.

That the conclusion is that the Government handled the whole thing with
arrogance and insensitivity - more concerned with winning an impending
election than protecting our countryside - should be a huge embarrassment
for Mr Blair. That the damage and devastation of a terrible disease was
exacerbated by his mistakes will rightly cause outrage.

But the thought that Labour can ignore this report is simply unacceptable.
The common complaint that this Government does not listen must not be
repeated with such an important document or such a vital issue. We must
learn these lessons; we must not let it happen again.

Are you listening, Mrs Beckett?



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REPORT SLAMS FOOT AND MOUTH POLICY


09:00 - 21 November 2002

 Europe yesterday hammered the final nail into the coffin of the
Government's handling of last year's foot and mouth crisis.

A report from the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on Foot and
Mouth Disease - voted through in Strasbourg yesterday - criticised the UK's
handling of foot and mouth from start to finish.

And the committee rubber-stamped what many in the Westcountry have been
calling on the Government to provide since the crisis began - compensation
for everyone who suffered because of the disease.

Westcountry MEP and Somerset farmer Neil Parish said the report provided
damning evidence about all aspects of the foot and mouth planning.

"The report shows that the outbreak could have been better contained if the
Government had put in place an immediate ban on the movement of animals," he
said.

"It shows how farmers were intimidated, procedures ignored and EU laws
flouted."

But Labour's agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament, North East
MEP Gordon Adam, said the report was inaccurate. Mr Adam, whose constituency
includes the believed source of the outbreak, Heddon-on-the-Wall in
Northumberland, said: "The report does not neglect the horrors of the crisis
nor the trauma suffered by those involved either directly or indirectly. Nor
does it run away from the mistakes in policy or of administration.

"There are, however, in the text some errors of fact and opinions expressed
which are not compatible with the evidence of the Lessons to be Learned
inquiry and the Royal Society report.

"My main concern has been that we should not give the impression to the
farming community or the general public that slaughter can be replaced by
vaccination."

The report recommended that in future when an outbreak occurred, emergency
vaccination should no longer be regarded as a last resort for controlling
foot and mouth.

Particularly of interest to many businesses in the tourist-dominated economy
of the Westcountry was the report's criticism of the way compensation was
distributed. It said it was "unacceptable" that those who suffered a
knock-on effect were not compensated.

"It is unacceptable that only farmers - in whose interest the
non-vaccination policy is being pursued - should receive compensation... for
livestock lost in a foot and mouth outbreak while other farmers and those in
other sectors of the economy - particularly tourism and sport - are
compelled to foot the bill for their own losses arising from this policy.

"The rules on compensation need to be reviewed in the light of this.

"The practice adhered to in compensating farmers in the event of an FMD
outbreak is unjust. "It is not clear why only farmers whose animals have
been culled should receive compensation, while none is paid to farmers who
have been unable to market animals or animal products properly because of
the movement ban."

The report goes on to call for more clarity in the rules governing
compensation.

It said: "The preconditions for compensation for losses due to animal
diseases, particularly FMD, must be transparent, so that, in particular, the
farmers concerned do not resist measures which are necessary in order to
control disease because of misconceptions about the compensation which may
be payable."

But a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,
(Defra) said that "consequential" compensation would not be paid as
Government inquiries had decided it "would not be appropriate".

Anthony Gibson, regional director of the South West National Farmers' Union,
said: "There's no doubt that the greatest financial hardship during last
year's foot and mouth outbreak was experienced by those who didn't have the
disease.

"The problem with consequential compensation is deciding where to draw the
line."

Colin Breed, South East Cornwall Liberal Democrat MP and member of the
Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that
consequential compensation would cost billions of pounds - much of which
would be spent on investigating who should receive what. He said the
Government should help set up an insurance scheme for farmers in the event
of a future outbreak.

 


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HOPELESSLY UNPREPARED


11:00 - 21 November 2002

 Major flaws in disease control left Britain hopelessly exposed to
foot-and-mouth when the disease struck last year, a top-level European
report revealed last night.

In the most damning indictment yet of Britain's handling of the epidemic,
the document criticises the Government for being ill-prepared and of
reacting too slowly when the first case was identified in late February.

Once the disease was established, efforts to control it were hampered by
poor communication, the Army was mobilised too late and too few vets were
available.

There were breaches of animal welfare regulations during the slaughter of
the estimated 10million animals and the system of compensation was unfair.

The report, drawn up by a European Parliament committee of inquiry, has
called on the European Union to strengthen protection against foot-and-mouth
by banning imports from countries where it is endemic.

South West MEP Neil Parish, Conservative agriculture spokesman in the
European Parliament, said the Government must learn from farmers'
experiences.

He said: "The inquiry team travelled the country listening to people,
listening to their views and their experiences. Some of what we heard was
awful. One farmer from the Forest of Dean said most people there were more
in fear of a Maff [now Defra] official appearing at the door than they were
of the disease themselves.

"So far, it seems the Government has not listened to any of this. Now is
time to do so."

A State Veterinary Service report in 1999 showed contingency plans for an
outbreak of foot-and-mouth were suffering from "considerable shortcomings".
But hardly anything was done to implement the report's recommendations
before the crisis arose.

Although the disease was first confirmed on February 20, the Government
waited until February 23, 2001, before banning animal movements.

The report said: "This delay caused a considerable increase in the number of
cases. In retrospect, an immediate ban on movements of FMD-susceptible
animals would have been appropriate when the first case was detected."

It continued: "The handling of the epidemic was characterised by a lack of
co-ordination between veterinary and policy staff within the Veterinary
Service and between the regions and the centre. This led to difficulties in
implementing the Government's control strategy."

The number of full-time state veterinary staff was reduced by half in the
preceding 20 years and the closure of local veterinary centres resulted in a
loss of knowledge of local conditions.

The report said: "This has weakened the capacity for responding to the
crisis, particularly as the number of livestock has increased significantly
over the same period.

"At the beginning of the epidemic, there were not enough staff to cope with
the rapidly growing number of infected farms and carry out inspection and
eradication measures."

The report said earlier use of the Army would have reduced the backlog of
carcasses to be disposed and the distress experienced by farmers.

It added that unnecessary suffering had been inflicted on animals because
staff had not been adequately trained.

Because of this, the committee said vaccination must be considered as a
first step in any future outbreak.

It is calling on the EC to look at setting up an insurance scheme to cover
livestock diseases, possibly with contributions from livestock farmers.

It said it was "unacceptable" that only farmers whose animals were culled
should receive compensation while others were compelled to foot the bill for
their own losses.