Much improved on 2001, but could do better in some areas.” That is the verdict so far on DEFRA’s handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis, based on feedback from our web-users and comments from industry organisations.

Our weekly poll on FWi last week posed the question “Is DEFRA doing enough to contain foot-and-mouth?”. By lunchtime on Wednesday (15 August), more than 1000 users had responded, with about 60% seemingly satisfied with the government’s performance and 40% dissatisfied.

This mixed view was also reflected on our FWiSpace Forum page.

“In some ways the DEFRA response has been a huge improvement on 2001, but in other aspects surprisingly lethargic,” wrote Jacobus. “They claim everything they do is driven by science and risk assessment, but the ludicrous insistence of not closing footpaths except on confirmed infected premises was surely politically motivated.”

This failure to close footpaths was also seized upon by Crazysheep. “Why shut the stable door after the horse has bolted?” he asked. “Those footpaths should have been closed down as soon as they suspected F&M.”

FWiSpace users also criticised DEFRA for its decision to transport slaughtered livestock to Somerset for incineration. “If a lab handling the foot-and-mouth virus needs airlocks, negative pressure, special suits etc then how the hell can that virus be carried in lorries across the country with other livestock a few feet away on both sides of the road for mile after mile?” asked Dave 3 from west Wales.

NFU president Peter Kendall admitted there had been a few “niggles” in DEFRA’s handling of the outbreak, but generally the verdict was “so far, so good”.

The fact that Trading Standards had stopped a farmer in the protection zone from closing a footpath was “not good”, he said, and there was also room for improvement in DEFRA’s communication. “That culled animals were being taken to Frome was not in itself a worry, but DEFRA needed to explain better why they were doing it and how they were doing it.” It also took too long to get clarification on provisions for handling fallen stock, while databases on the number and type of farmer in the protection and surveillance zones were out of date.

Mr Kendall applauded the fact that Prime Minister Gordon Brown and DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn had come back from holiday immediately to take charge.

British Veterinary Association president David Catlow said DEFRA’s response had been swift and proportionate. Imposing an immediate movement ban had been crucial.

He also praised the work of government vets and the “superb laboratories” that enabled early identification of all livestock diseases. “Without the fantastic resource we have in the UK, we would have to send samples abroad and that would make our response times so much slower.”

Richella Logan, animal health and welfare adviser at the Country Land and Business Association, agreed that DEFRA’s performance had been “incomparable” to 2001. Key stakeholders had been kept up to date, showing that cost/responsibility sharing could work.

DEFRA could have done a better job at communicating direct with farmers and landowners in the protection and surveillance zones – especially those who do not have internet access, she added.

DEFRA’s failiure to shut all footpaths in the protection zone immediately has been strongly criticised.



OTHER COMMENTS FROM OUR READERS
  • “The foot-and-mouth outbreak started nearly a fortnight ago and nobody that I’ve spoken to has had any formal, on actual paper, notification of the rules and regulations from DEFRA – so far. It’s the communication with the wider agricultural community that DEFRA has handled badly this time.” – Annabelle chavhunter on FWiSpace
  • “I too have no official notification of a F&M problem. My neighbour has been getting away from it for two weeks on a walking holiday and had no idea until I told him this morning.” – tarquin on FWiSpace
  • “As an industry we have had two years of being bombarded by a mountain of books instructing us on how to be compliant with the raft of rules and regulations but now, when instructions are most needed, there is nothing!” Cathy Meredith, Herefordshire, Rural Hub Coordinator by email
  • “I suppose it is good to see DEFRA are upping the game slightly in an effort to improve communications [referring to the publication of some answers to Frequently Asked Questions on DEFRA’s website on 8 August]. But I have never come across a set of FAQs yet that answers the questions I really want dealt with and DEFRA’s are no exception!” – Jacobus on FWiSpace
  • “As DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly have most farmers email addresses, why have they not emailed us about not moving livestock?” – taff on FWiSpace