12 April 2002

Bar on slaughtermen made F&M even harder to control

By Philip Clarke

FARMER reluctance to let slaughtermen on to their holdings during last years foot-and-mouth crisis was a serious impediment to containing the disease and needs to be addressed by future legislation.

Giving evidence at this weeks sitting of the European Parliaments temporary committee into F&M in Strasbourg, junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty said rapid access to holdings was crucial.

At one point during the outbreak around Thirsk in Yorkshire as many as one in three attempts to get on to premises for culling was met with resistance, he said. Although 27 of these objections were upheld, seven farms were later found to be infected with the disease.

Farmers right to appeal was a real problem and the government may have to take emergency powers to deal with it in case of future outbreaks.

Lord Whitty levelled targeted criticism at Devon farmer Guy Everard, who had successfully contested a compulsory slaughter order. If more farmers had acted like him, the situation would have been even worse.

But Mr Everard, also giving evidence to the committee in Strasbourg, blamed the governments lack of consultation and bullying tactics for any delays.

His farm had only been identified as a dangerous contact because of a visit from an agricultural contractor. After testing, MAFF had agreed his animals were free of the disease. Two days later it changed tack, announcing at a Press conference its intention to slaughter the stock.

Mr Everard refused access and, after a seven-day stand-off, MAFF backed down. "To announce to the Press before informing me was typical of the way MAFF operated throughout the epidemic," he said.

Other farmers were not so tenacious and many healthy animals had been killed unnecessarily, wasting vast sums of taxpayers money in compensation, he added.

Lord Whitty admitted there were weaknesses in the governments contingency plan for F&M, which, he said, was designed for individual outbreaks, not the widespread epidemic that hit the UK last year.

In particular, there should have been an immediate ban on livestock movements as soon as the first case was discovered, even though this would have appeared Draconian at the time. &#42