18 January 2002

F&MOUTBREAKISOVER BUTFOODIMPORTSSTILL POSEDEADLYRISKINUK

Britain is free of foot-and-mouth – and thats official. But for how long?

Despite crippling stock movement restrictions, the appalling truth is that the carnage could happen again; next week, next month or next year. How many lives, human and animal, will the next outbreak claim? How much will it cost?

During last years crisis some thought suicide the only way out. Their families and friends are left to struggle with the loss. More than 4m animals were slaughtered and the cost to UK farming is estimated at up to £2.4bn and to tourism at £3bn. Yet all that stands between UK farming and another outbreak are a few overworked officials at Britains ports and bland posters threatening fines for those caught smuggling meat or vegetable products.

Instead of focusing on the threat of tropical diseases arising through exotic holidays, chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldsons recent report should have recognised the risk from meat and fish imports. Not just foot-and-mouth but, heaven forbid, the killer disease ebola could be arriving at Heathrow Airport in someones suitcase as you read this page.

That threat became even more chilling this week when a DEFRA spokesman admitted that it was impossible to search every bag from every non-EU destination.

Unless illegal meat and fish imports are stamped out and tighter controls enforced against legal meat imports, our farmers, indeed our nation, remains defenceless. Both are being held hostage to government incompetence and indifference. Neither the USA nor Australia would tolerate that; why should we?

Since last March when we first reported the threat from human and animal diseases reaching our shores through illegal and legal imports, virtually nothing seems to have changed. It is difficult to think of a more damning indictment of this governments policies on food, farming, human and animal health.