28 June 2002

F&M victims claim unions and government panicked

By FW reporters

THE European Parliaments foot-and-mouth investigation team has heard condemnation of UK government policy, civil servants and farming union leaders during a visit to the Wales and the West Country.

At an emotionally charged meeting at Welshpool Livestock Market in Powys, union bosses were accused of letting down their members by backing badly thought-out and ineptly managed F&M disease controls.

Phil Owens, a local farmer who was Farmers Union of Wales county branch chairman during the crisis, accused his unions hierarchy of sharing the governments panic. And this had led them to collude with scientifically nonsensical anti-vaccination and contiguous cull policies.

He told the team, led by Encarnion Redonda Jiminez of Spain, that most of the animals slaughtered as suspect cases were uninfected. Laboratory tests confirmed F&M on only 70 of the 800 farms slaughtered out in Wales and the apparent determination to kill as many animals as possible left many farmers wondering if there was a hidden EU agenda to destock UK farms.

But the MEPs denied this and Dutch MEP Jan Mulder told the meeting that farmers in Holland were as unhappy as UK farmers about the way the disease had been tackled, and it was clear that a new EU policy was needed.

Anthony Hurst, parish priest in Montgomery, and Michael Jones, chairman of the Powys Rural Support Network, told the MEPs that many farming families had been left traumatised, and the after-effects of F&M were still tearing the rural community apart.

In Devon, the MEPs heard from Thelma Willmets whose housed cattle were culled 22 days after terrified cattle from a confirmed F&M farm invaded their land. MAFF agents had been trying to kill them using rifles. But the cattle had not been penned or tranquilised.

One of the terrified bullocks escaped to Devon farmer Bill Normans land where it stood motionless in a field all day.

"It was obvious the animal had F&M. I went to the village four times. There were riflemen in the street. But we could not find anyone from MAFF to give the order to shoot it."

Local vet Wendy Vere focussed on MAFFs attitude to farmers. "The intimidation was quite appalling. Im ashamed to be part of a society that inflicts that sort of cruelty on its rural people. Some were phoned at 5am and told their stock would be culled at 9am."

Farmer Matt Knight described how for six weeks he was bullied, lied to, threatened and intimidated by MAFF.

"MAFF told us there was an infected farm next door when they knew it had a negative test result." He was warned by MAFF not to help other farmers resist culls, and MAFF phoned him daily, saying if he would not allow his stock to be culled they would come next day and do it anyway.

Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas said they had heard "enormous testimony to arrogance and incompetence of the national authority".

"Clearly we need a public inquiry." &#42