3 August 2001

Press is united in F&Minquiry calls

By Isabel Davies

THE national Press has added its voice to thousands of farmers fighting to persuade the government to agree to a full public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Broadsheets and tabloids alike are united in their desire to see the government conduct a full public investigation. They say explanations are needed for some of the decisions that have been made over the past few months.

Writing after claims were made that farmers might be deliberately infecting their own animals, the Daily Mail said it seemed convenient that the finger was once again being pointed at farmers. "But is it not odd that a regime which refuses to allow its own role in this tragedy to be properly scrutinised in a public inquiry has no qualms about putting the farmers behaviour under the spotlight?"

The Financial Times said Downing Streets knee-jerk response to reports of the high cost of disinfecting farms suggested it was still susceptible to making policy on the hoof. "What matters to us now is to learn the lessons of this affair – and the best way to do that will be through a proper public inquiry."

There were strong words and accusations in an opinion piece that appeared in The Independent which described the handling of the crisis as a bungle. "If ever a scandal cried out for a public inquiry, it is this one. Yet ministers still prevaricate, saying there are sound reasons for not having a public, judicial tribunal."

An opinion piece in The Times said there appeared to be good reasons for a public inquiry yet the Prime Minister refused to organise anything beyond a scientific review. It said there was no reason why an inquiry should take any longer than the one into the last outbreak in 1968. "Mr Blairs real fear may simply be that an inquiry will embarrass his government," it concluded.

The Daily Telegraph said the failures of MAFF were hanging like an albatross around the neck of DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett. "The best way to send the bird plummeting into the depths is by ordering the full public inquiry which Michael Meacher called for as long ago as March, before being slapped down by Mr Blair."