2 November 2001

Cool reception for Animal

Health Bill from industry

By Isabel Davies

PROPOSED laws to fight farm diseases and remove farmers rights to oppose the culling of animals in the event of another foot-and-mouth outbreak face stiff opposition.

Ministers published an amended Animal Health Bill which would give officials the power to slaughter any animals believed necessary to prevent the spread of F&M on Wed (31 Oct). It gives them the right to withhold 25% of compensation payments if a farmer is responsible for the spread of the disease.

Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley said the government needed to know it could deal with future F&M outbreaks effectively. Furthermore, to help eradicate scrapie, the bill contains plans to test all sheep. Those which are not resistant to the disease will be slaughtered, castrated or sterilised.

NFU president Ben Gill agreed that a better legal framework for fighting disease was needed. "We learned from F&M that animal diseases have no respect for the timetables set by lawyers. So what we need is a quick but fair system to balance the rights of individuals with the best interests of the national flock."

But Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, said the proposals were a knee-jerk reaction that did nothing to assist farmers. "It appears the Government is trying to shift blame for the current outbreak onto the farmers instead of looking at the facts."

The Countryside Alliance accused the government of coming up with proposals that were half-baked and not justified by the known facts about the F&M outbreak. Chief executive Richard Burge said: "There is no evidence that the outbreak was materially exacerbated by any active resistance of farmers to the slaughter of livestock."

Shadow DEFRA secretary of state Peter Ainsworth said DEFRA ministers had proved they could not be trusted to make a rational or informed decision during an epidemic. "It is important to avoid hasty legislation. Why has the government rushed to publish this bill before knowing the outcome of even its own inquiries into the F&M disaster?"

Jon Dobson, spokesman for the National Foot-and-Mouth Group said it was cynical to try to introduce the law before the governments three investigations into F&M had been completed. "The net result of all of this pretence of communication and teamwork over the last few months between scientists, vets and farmers has been this – just a condescending law on the increase of powers to slaughter." &#42