28 June 2002

Disease cuts betrayal

By Shelley Wright

and Jonathan Riley

THE government has been accused of betraying farmers and the rural community by cutting disease control funding.

NFU Scotland president, Jim Walker, said: "We have learned that the cost of foot-and-mouth to the public and private sectors was over £8bn in the National Audit Office report. It also concluded that vets played a key role in tackling the outbreak, but there were too few of them."

Yet, unbelievably, the DEFRA secretary, Margaret Beckett, is still not taking disease control seriously, he said. "The continued under-resourcing of the State Veterinary Service is nothing short of a betrayal by the government and puts the whole rural economy under threat," he said.

He added that the union had seen a copy of a letter from a DEFRA business controller banning overtime within the SVS, stopping the employment of any casual staff, and halting any new recruitment.

Even worse, said Mr Walker, the letter suggested that, in certain parts of the country, lack of resources would also put a halt to some animal health controls that are listed as DEFRA priorities.

Evidence of this had already surfaced in Scotland. "In Ayrshire we have a farm where calves have tested positive for tuberculosis. They came from a farm in Gloucestershire where TB was confirmed, yet no other cattle that had moved off this farm, including these calves, were ever traced."

The reason given was that the local animal disease veterinary office had insufficient staff to carry out the tracing, even though tackling TB is cited by DEFRA as one of its top priorities, said Mr Walker.

The union is now campaigning to get an independent, separately funded veterinary service for Scotland, under the control of the Scottish Executive.

The National Beef Association described DEFRAs plans to slash SVS funding to below pre-F&M levels as proof that Mrs Beckett was, "utterly out of touch with farming reality".

"It is beyond belief that DEFRA can even contemplate weakening the SVS at a time when TB is rampant and everyone on the animal health frontline knows more money must be spent fighting disease – not less," said NBA cattle health committee chairman, George Richardson. &#42