18 March 2001
Opposition grows against mass cull

by Johann Tasker

MINISTERS and farm leaders face a crisis of confidence as opposition mounts against a cull of healthy livestock ordered to control foot-and-mouth disease.

Chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore is due to visit farmers and local vets in Cumbria to explain the reasons behind the cull on Monday (19 March).

He faces a rocky reception from livestock producers who claim that the slaughter of up to one million healthy animals is barbaric and unscientific.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union has backed the cull. But local union officials say farmers cannot face the slaughter of healthy livestock.

The RSPCA has also described the cull as a step too far.

Junior farm minister Joyce Quin visited Cumbria on Sunday (18 March) to persuade farmers to allow Ministry of Agriculture officials onto their land.

Her visit came the day after the cull of sheep and pigs within 3km (1.86miles) of infected farms in Cumbria and Scotland started in Dumfries and Galloway.

David Handley of the militant pressure group Farmers For Action has pledged “all out war” against the government if the killing continues.

Mr Handley, who Farmers Weekly readers voted their Personality of the Year 2000, was one of the organisers of last years fuel protests.

He is seeking a judicial review over the governments handling of the crisis which an influential think-tank estimates will cost the economy more than BSE.

Calculations by the Centre for Economics and Business Research forecast that foot-and-mouth will cost Britain 9 billion, equivalent to 370 per household.

Farming and its allied industries are expected to lose 3.6 billion. Tourism is forecast to lose 7.7 billion as domestic and overseas visitors cancel holidays.

In an attempt to boost confidence, environment minister Michael Meacher has urged people not to destroy rural businesses by staying out of the countryside.

People could still visit garden centres, historic villages, market towns, hotels and B&Bs, he told the BBC Countryfile programme on Sunday (18 March).

But a majority of people think the government is handling foot-and-mouth badly, according an NOP poll conducted for the Sunday Times.

The survey found that 22% of respondents said ministers were handling the crisis very badly, with 25% saying they were handling it fairly badly.

Only 7% said the government was handling the crisis very well, with 37% of respondents saying it was being handled fairly well.

The Queen added her voice to the growing ranks of critics by asking racing officials to take a hard look at whether the sport should continue.

The Mail on Sunday said more people might grasp the seriousness of the situation if television could transmit the smell of burning animals.

Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage