15 March 2001
Scale of slaughter stuns industry

By FWi staff

BRITAINS farmers are stunned after being told that hundreds of thousands of animals must be slaughtered in a bid to control foot-and-mouth disease.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown announced the desperate measure to MPs in the House of Commons on Thursday (15 March).

“Foot-and-mouth disease is a personal tragedy for those affected and a body blow to the livestock industry as a whole,” he told MPs.

It is believed that up to 500,000 animals could be slaughtered.

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo expressed his gratitude to Ministry of Agriculture officials and those in the front line dealing with the disease.

Mr Yeo paid tribute to Mr Brown, expressing sympathy for the “substantial burden” that the agriculture minister is carrying while dealing with the crisis.

“We support the governments decision to embark on the slaughter of sheep who may have become affected through markets that he has referred to.”

The government should to make greater use of the army and other offers of help to deal with the scale of the slaughter, said Mr Yeo.

A further large-scale slaughter would put another huge strain on resources which were already stretched, he told MPs.

“I urge the minister again to make wider use of the army to assist in this plan than is currently proposed by the government,” he said.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, said livestock producers would be sickened by the prospect of seeing healthy animals slaughtered.

But they would reluctantly accept that it is inevitable, he added.

“There will be many tears around the British countryside today. Our farms should be starting to jump with new-born lambs and calves.

“Instead many will feel that spring has been cancelled and their farms are simply dead.”

Mr Gill said the measures would leave farmers feeling desperate and appalled at the implications for the industry.

But not to act in this way would be even more disastrous, said Mr Gill. “If we do not try to cull ahead of the disease then even more animals will be affected.”

Acting in a hard and decisive manner now would help reduce the overall length of stress on the industry, he added.

In Scotland alone, it is believed that 200,000 sheep will be killed.

The National Sheep Association was taken by surprise at the extent of the cull, which a spokesman said appeared to be a completely new approach.

“Affected farmers will be compensated at market value, but there will be no compensation for the long-term losses,” he said.

“It will take years for breeding herds to get their genetics back.”

Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, said: “Despite the best efforts of the government, this disease is not under control.

With undetected spread through huge numbers of sheep, transmission to thousands of other animals is inevitable without further controls, he added.

“No words can describe the agony of those who have already seen their lifes work destroyed by foot-and-mouth,” said Mr Walker.

Peter Stevenson, political and legal director of the pressure group Compassion in World Farming said: “Im utterly appalled. Where will this end?

“Millions of sheep? We have reluctantly accepted the slaughter of infected animals, but the wholesale slaughter of healthy stock is wrong.”

Mr Stevenson called for an urgent and independent veterinary summit to review the governments decision to slaughter so many animals.

“Im appealing to vets across the country to put their heads together before the weekend and explore thoroughly other options, including vaccination.”

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