8 June 2001

MAFFsfigures conceal true number of F&M culls

By Shelley Wright

Scotland correspondent

THE government stands accused of deliberately concealing the true number of animals slaughtered in the battle to control foot-and-mouth disease.

An estimated 2m lambs and calves have been excluded from official figures.

MAFF figures suggested that almost 3.2m cattle, sheep, pigs and goats had been killed on farms across the UK. But data from Scotland shows the true number of animals lost could be more than 70% higher than the ministry is prepared to admit.

Figures published on MAFFs web-site list by county the number of animals slaughtered as confirmed cases of F&M or because they were deemed to be at risk.

For Dumfries and Galloway – the county second only to Cumbria in terms of the number of cases of F&M – MAFF suggests a total of 42,372 cattle have been killed in the past three months. Yet the Scottish Executive says the true figure is 71.5% higher than that, maintaining that 72,700 cattle have been slaughtered.

There are similar discrepancies for sheep numbers, with the Scottish Executive figure of 544,309 animals slaughtered in Dumfries and Galloway being almost 64% higher than the 332,516 admitted by MAFF.

If this degree of under-reporting is typical of the rest of the country, then 2m cattle and sheep could be missing from the official list of animals slaughtered.

The reason that figures from MAFF are so low is that it counts only adult animals. While estimates of lambing percentage or calf numbers are made for valuation purposes the hundreds of thousands of lambs and calves that have been culled since the disease outbreak began have not been added to MAFF statistics.

"The figures we publish do not include lambs and calves," said a ministry spokesman. "Animals that cant stand on their own feet are not counted because they might have died anyway. "Our people in the field compile the statistics that we need to combat this disease, and the number of calves and lambs slaughtered is not relevant."

No estimate was available, said the spokesman, of how many lambs and calves might have been slaughtered in England and Wales without being recorded.

Shadow farms minister, Tim Yeo, said the figures, uncovered by farmers weekly, were the first proof that the toll exacted on Britains livestock industry was far greater than the public realised.

"The government deliberately tried to shuffle F&M disease out of the way in the run up to the election," said Mr Yeo.

Proof that the government has been under-reporting the grim statistics associated with foot and mouth disease comes as no surprise to those in the farming industry.

"We have been concerned for some time that there is a huge discrepancy in the figures being collected by MAFF," said Richard Sibley, president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association.

Another concern among vets is the accuracy of the models prepared by epidemiologists to show the likely extent of the disease, and any further spread. "If the epidemiologists are working on dodgy data provided by MAFF then there can be little hope that their predictions are terribly accurate," said another leading industry vet.

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said: "Just a few weeks ago we had the Prime Minister saying that the government was on top of the disease. With the cases we have seen emerge since, it is clear that that was a load of cobblers." &#42