2 August 2002

NIs F&M outbreak almost inevitable

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

POOR import controls and lax farm biosecurity made Northern Irelands four cases of foot-and-mouth disease last year "almost inevitable", says consultants Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

Presenting the groups specially-commissioned review, PwC partner Graham Cash said better policing might have avoided the outbreak altogether.

"There is evidence that tighter controls at points of entry, together with rigorous checks as to where animals were destined, would have detected the consignment subsequently found to be infected."

The review confirms that it was sheep imports from Longtown market in Cumbria that led to the first of the provinces four outbreaks. But the source of infection for the other outbreaks remains a mystery.

PwC points the finger at "the systematic abuse of animal import and licensing legislation", in particular sheep from Britain that were supposed to go direct for slaughter in Northern Ireland, but in fact were illegally smuggled into Eire.

In 2000 and the first two months of 2001, it is estimated that 35,000 sheep out of 56,500 failed to turn up at the designated meat plant.

Agriculture minister, Brid Rodgers, acknowledged that not all consignments of imported sheep were being checked at the time.

The PwC review also concludes that the department of agricultures contingency plan for dealing with F&M, approved in 1993, was of "limited use" and "inadequate to deal with the resulting events". "Slaughtering in the early days of the cull proved unsatisfactory. There was a shortage of licensed weapons and ammunition and a lack of vets trained to cull animals."

But it acknowledges that the department was swift to address these weaknesses, praising the immediate ban on imports, without which the situation could have been a whole lot worse. &#42