22 June 2001

OUTSTANDING WORRIES OVER F&MCRISIS NEED SWIFT ATTENTION NOW

The worried faces on our front cover say it all. The tension etched on the faces of about 650 farmers attending a mass rally in Builth Wells, Powys, reveal the fear in our farming communities.

True, its almost a month since the last outbreak of foot-and-mouth in Wales. But nearly 100 cases have been confirmed and about 30,000 animals slaughtered on 700 farms. No one knows whether that is the beginning of the end of the crisis or a temporary respite.

Many other farmers throughout the UK, particularly in the north-west, North Yorks and south-west share those worries.

Meetings should be staged similar to the one held in Wales. Anything which provides much needed information about the F&M epidemic must be welcomed. Provided, that is, full biosecurity measures are implemented.

Also, a full public inquiry into how the disease entered the UK and spread so rapidly would offer some consolation to many farmers, and others, whose businesses have been wrecked by F&M.

Meanwhile, the prompt payment of compensation would do much to mitigate the severe financial hardship endured by those who have lost everything.

Allegations that about 30 letters, out of a total of nearly 500, applying for F&M compensation in Wales have been processed are as shocking as they are disturbing. Such allegations should be addressed, and if true, remedied as soon as possible.

Finally, we need an honest appraisal of the contribution vaccination could make to ending this terrible disease. Although scientific opinion is as divided as farmers views on this contentious subject, if the comments of Dr Ruth Watkins at the Builth Wells meeting are to be believed, it is high time to re-consider a vaccination policy.

Galling though it may seem after so many animal deaths, not to mention so much human suffering, if the disease remains widespread in the autumn vaccination may prove our last defence.