30 April 2001
Contiguous cull ‘needless’

By FWi staff

HUNDREDS of thousands of cattle died needlessly because ministers were seduced by a misguided foot-and-mouth forecast, claim industry figures.

According to the National Beef Association, only 25% of the 425,000 cattle slaughtered so far to control the epidemic were on infected premises.

Many others died in culls on neighbouring farms, introduced in response to recommendations by Imperial College London researchers, says the NBA.

Their report, produced for the Government in late March, called for speedier slaughter and a 3km “ring cull” around outbreaks to control the disease.

The epidemic has since come under control with daily new cases falling from more than 50 a day at its peak to three on Sunday (29 April).

But the NBA says it was a clampdown on animal movements, the vigilance of farmers, and immediate slaughter of infected animals which achieved this.

“The decision to introduce it was too hurried because it was made against a background of political excitement,” said NBA chief executive Robert Forster.

“As a result veterinary science, which has since been shown to have been successful in bringing the epidemic under control, was pushed rudely aside.”

The cull on farms bordering infected premises would have done little to slow the disease as it had already reached its peak by this time, says the NBA.

Mr Forster said he was “dismayed” that veterinary representatives accepted the advice of the non-veterinary researchers to justify the cull.

The NBA chief executive welcomed the decision by Agriculture Minister Nick Brown last week to end the automatic contiguous cull of cattle.

However, Mr Forster cautioned ministers to “show more discrimination in its choice of scientific advisers when next faced with an animal disease crisis”.

A spokeswoman for MAFF said: “We take advice from the best possible scientific sources and any decision involves stakeholders such as the National Farmers Union and the NBA.”

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