13 March 2001
Blair pledge on foot-and-mouth

By Johann Tasker

TONY BLAIR will decide within 48 hours whether to take radical action in a bid to eradicate foot-and-mouth disease, FARMERS WEEKLY has learned.

The Prime Minister made the pledge to farmers leaders during an emergency meeting at Downing Street on Tuesday (13 March).

Mr Blair also reiterated his commitment to provide all the resources needed to fight outbreaks of the disease, which have now risen to 191 cases.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, said there was little doubt that the situation would get worse before it got better.

“Strong action is needed immediately on the issues causing gravest concern, particularly the need for quick slaughter and destruction of infected animals.”

Many farmers are worried that the disease may be spreading because infected animals are not being slaughtered and disposed of quickly enough.

Mr Gill said: “We also highlighted the acute concern about the animal-welfare implications of not being able to move animals, particularly ewes about to lamb.

One option being considered is the culling of up to 500,000 sheep trapped in livestock movement restriction zones imposed because of foot-and-mouth.

An NFU spokeswoman said the union would reluctantly accept the cull if it was authorised by the governments chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore.

Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, told the Prime Minister it was time for Government to make tough decisions.

“Mr Blair is now quite clear that the industry is at breaking point,” he said.

“Decisions must be taken on whether we take radical steps to stop this disease in its tracks, or whether we allow it to rumble on for months.”

Mr Walker added: “It is time for pre-emptive action to take possible carriers of the virus out of the system.”

A special scheme must be introduced to address the increasingly serious animal welfare problem in areas under foot-and-mouth restriction, he said.

“Radical decisions are not easy for Government and certainly not for the industry, but short-term pain may have to be endured for a long-term future.

“He has also promised to take these decisions in the next 48 hours.”

The Prime Ministers spokesman has acknowledged that the foot-and-mouth crisis is a very difficult situation for the farming community and rural tourism.

The proliferation of the disease is serious but did not mean that the government had adopted the wrong strategy to control it, he said.

Foot-and-mouth crisis talks at No 10, FWi, 13 March, 2001
Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage