Week In Week Out - the foot and mouth crisis

This programme was broadcast on Welsh Television.

Extracts

...have the politicians really been acting in the interests of the country or has there been another, hidden agenda? Getting answers to these questions won't be easy because the prime minister has ruled out a full public inquiry.

Roy Miller is a business man and farmer. This is his case against the cull.

"The past seven months have brought terrible hardship to communities like mine and farmers are deeply concerned about the future. The presence of foot and mouth has been bad enough - but I believe the treatment has been more deadly than the disease. The way the government in Cardiff and London have handled it has been a disaster. At least twice as many animals have died as have needed to and in consequence the rural economy has been brought to its knees.

At the beginning, in common with most farmers, I supported the policy of culling animals to eradicate foot and mouth. The government kept telling us it was under control, that success was just around the corner but it soon became obvious that their strategy wasn't working. It would almost appear that the government had been operating like a compulsive gambler believing that if they kept on betting the same way and pushing down the same road eventually it would come right. I think with hindsight they probably know themselves that they ought to have been doing something different.

From the very beginning when the disease was detected in an abattoir in Essex I believe the authorities responded too slowly. They should have acted sooner to ban livestock movements, the army should have been called in earlier to hasten the slaughter. They lost control and they panicked. What we've had, certainly to begin with, is a sloppy attitude to dealing with the problem, then a massive overreaction - you'd think it was the bubonic plague or the Black Death - the panic that these people got themselves into, slaughtering animals left right and centre and then afterwards we get the results that it was OK.......

Anne Morgan's farm was ten miles away from the nearest case. When an inexperienced young vet reported abnormalities in /a handful of her sheep officials from maff now defra ordered her entire stock to be slaughtered. Days later the lab tests came back: negative.

Anne Morgan: They are supposed to be the experts and they're telling you that you've got foot nd mouth. Even if you don't believe it they're telling you you've got it, so you have to do something to protect other people"

Anne showed me the lambing shed where she brought her animals to be killed.

Anne Morgan "This was just a morgue. We had to witness it all. The smell was horrendous. The sheep came down as you say like lambs to the slaughter. they followed us in i.e. just to have their cake or corn or whatever..."

Roy Miller: "Trusting you as usual?"

Anne Morgan: Trusting us as usual and that's the feeling that never goes away, that you actually led them to their deaths. On the day, I didn't make the decision: Defra did. Defra, due to panic, have been incompetent in several areas. There was inconclusive proof or scientific proof here for them to take the measures that they took."

BELFAST

Roy Miller "I have come to a conference in Belfast with some of Britain's leading experts on animal health. Until the end of May, Dr Paul Kitching was head of the world reference laboratory for foot and mouth at Pirbright. He believes good clinical science was put to one side in the handling of this outbreak and the models used to plot the likely spread of foot and mouth were based on wrong information.

Paul Kitching: the models were quite clearly not correct and they resulted in a situation where veterinarians were having to make immediate clinical diagnosis in sheep in particular where you cannot make a clinical diagnosis of foot and mouth disease. There ere too many other conditions that mimic foot and mouth disease in sheep to be convincing and this was manifested by the samples which we received at Pirbright for confirmation which turned out to be negative. But by the time we reported them not only had that premise been slaughtered out but the contiguous premises as well.

Roy Miller: What would your assessment be of the degree of overkill that we have had in animals as a consequence of these measures?

Paul Kitching: Well I don' t know the answer to that but this is some thing that would come out at a public inquiry into the running of the outbreak just how many animals had been killed unnecessarily but from my own information I'd say that at least half of the animals slaughtered were done so unnecessarily.

Roy Miller: How would you sum up the way the whole affair has been managed?

Paul Kitching: I suppose in a sentence one would have to say it should have been left in the hands of professionals who know what they're doing.

The cull was incredibly insensitive. It didn't allow for local common sense and gave no discretion for people on the ground. it was a policy of shoot first and ask questions later and clearly the orders were coming from London. Worse still, I'm convinced the cull itself helped spread the disease. The operation was staffed by a small army of largely untrained contract workers, and truckloads of infected carcasses were ferried through the countryside. We should have had a much stronger grip on the contractors. There's no doubt about that We've got plenty of evidence of these major assurances of lorries that don't leak then find that on the Epynt issue they were leaking and we've even had live sheep tipped from lorries on the Epynt. Some of this stuff's inexcusable, completely inexcusable.

We're all hoping it's over but we'd be very wise to prepare for the worst as it could strike back with a vengeance in the colder weather. The outlook for livestock farming is grim. In this crisis, the government in London and in Cardiff have blundered on, stubbornly refusing to admit to their mistakes and change course. So why have they destroyed these millions of animals? many believe that it's because they saw foot and mouth saw the ideal opportunity to change the face of farming. Perhaps this explains their unwillingness to listen to common sense from those of us who have the countryside at heart.