26 July 2002

Pledge to keep plans updated

DEFRA secretary, Margaret Beckett, has pledged to update contingency plans for foot-and-mouth after being forced to concede that the plan in place in early 2001 had "its deficiencies".

Responding to the report into the handling of the 2001 outbreak Mrs Beckett accepted that mistakes were made. But in her statement to the House of Commons on Mon, July 22 Mrs Beckett said decisions were taken on the basis of information and advice then available.

"Dr Anderson does identify what he regards as mistakes of strategy. I think it is right to say that many, if not all of these, we as a government already acknowledge. Where there may be room for disagreement is again how much of this was evident only, or at least primarily, with hindsight," she said.

The document dismissed claims that the government had adequate contingency plans in place before February 2001. It said plans that existed lacked scope as contingency planning was low on the departments priorities. Plans had also failed to keep up with changing farming practices.

They did meet EU requirements and had been approved by the Standing Veterinary Committee, said the report. "But we found the contingency plan limited in scope, out of date in some respects and not integrated into a national programme of rehearsal and testing."

Farm leaders have endorsed the criticisms. NFU president, Ben Gill, said the lack of an effective contingency plan compounded problems caused by the governments failure to act quickly enough in the early days.