26 July 2002

Broad backing, but key questions unanswered

The long-awaited Lessons

to be Learned report on the

2001 foot-and-mouth

outbreak was finally

published on July 22. Led

by Iain Anderson the

investigation was meant to

provide farmers with the

truth about how the crisis

was handled. So does it?

farmers weekly reports

THE farming industry has broadly endorsed the conclusions of the Lessons to be Learned report into the handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis, but insisted that key questions remain unanswered.

Iain Anderson, who led the inquiry team that produced the report, revealed its findings on Monday (July 22). It was the final of the three reports commissioned by the government last August to report back.

Contrary to expectations the report did not single out people for criticism. "The nation will not be best served by seeking to blame individuals," said Dr Anderson at the reports launch in London.

This was despite describing the outbreak as an "emergency that became a crisis and in some parts of the country, a crisis that became a disaster".

The report criticised the government for not having an adequate contingency plan, failing to bring in the military sooner and for making decisions haphazardly.

It also questioned why it took 31 days before crisis management was taken over by the Cabinet Office Briefing Room and said in the early days no one in command understood in sufficient detail what was happening on the ground.

Dr Anderson admitted there were certain questions he could not get to the bottom of such as how plans for the contiguous cull emerged. "We have been unable to find a clear account of decision making around that time," he said. He called for better record keeping systems in future.

Martin Haworth, NFU policy director, said the union thought the conclusions of the report were broadly right, but did get the feeling that it held back at some points.

For example, no real reason was given for why the military was not brought in earlier in the crisis or who made that decision. "There must have been some explanation given," said Mr Haworth.

Robert Persey, a Devon farmer who campaigned for a public inquiry into the outbreak, said the words "broad and shallow" were very applicable to the report.

"It is frustrating that the Anderson inquiry appeared to leave a lot of stones unturned," he said. "Although was it better that these stones were left unturned?"

Sir Edward Greenwell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said he feared that the UK was no better prepared for a future outbreak as a consequence of the report.

"Given that the rigorous recommendations of the 1968 Northumberland report were patently not in place in February 2001, what faith can we put in the prospects of the rather more equivocal recommendations of Dr Anderson?" he said.

Dr Anderson himself said the country seemed "destined to repeat the mistakes of history" and admitted that he could not be confident that his report would be treated any differently to the one that preceded it.

Less of a lesson than expected? Iain Anderson admits some questions remain unanswered.