6 March 2001
MPs slam ministry on swine fever

By Alistair Driver

MPs have attacked the government for being unprepared for last years swine-fever outbreak, saying it had failed to learn from the Dutch epidemic in 1997/8.

The House of Commons agriculture committee made the criticisms in a report on the UK pig industry which was published on Tuesday (6 March).

The Ministry of Agriculture had relied solely on simulation exercises by the State Veterinary Service for disease planning, said the report.

“We believe that specific war games aimed at controlling classical swine fever should have been carried out following the Dutch outbreak.”

The absence of such plans showed a failure to learn and apply lessons from other member states, said the report.

Many business were jeopardised as swine fever swept across East Anglia last summer resulting in the slaughter of 250,000 pigs.

The MPs also said that much had been promised, but comparatively little delivered, by a government scheme promising 66 million to restructure the industry.

The report criticises the long delay in implementing the scheme, which was originally announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair at a farm summit last March.

Despite repeated reassurances throughout last spring and summer that it was “nearly there”, the first part of the scheme did not open until 4 December.

“It is apparent that the process was more lengthy than necessary.”

It said the delays and the way the Ministry of Agriculture raised peoples expectations about the scheme caused a lot of frustration within the industry.

The delay meant the 26m allocated for the first year of the three-year scheme would not be paid by the end of the financial year.

The committee called on agriculture minister Nick Brown to make an official statement that the money will be carried over to 2001/2.

This would end speculation in the pig industry and ensure producers can plan their businesses accordingly, said the report.

“The development of the scheme from its announcement to commencement highlights important lessons for MAFF to absorb and act upon in future.”