17 May 2002

Stock backlog tragedy

A CUMBRIA livestock producer and county councillor told how one of his cows calved five days after it was shot but not killed during the crisis.

Farmer Gary Strong – councillor for Penrith Rural – was hit by foot-and-mouth last March. The backlog of livestock awaiting slaughter was a major problem during the epidemic and conflicting advice was given regarding the disposal of carcasses, he told the inquiry hearing at Kendal last Thursday (May 9).

Cumbria was the county worst hit by the disease. It suffered 893 of Britains 2030 confirmed foot-and-mouth cases during last years epidemic. But there was a lack of resources, especially fork-lift trucks and fore-arm handlers, said Mr Strong, who supplied the inquiry with photographic evidence and video footage.

Confusion meant disinfectant teams turned up to clean buildings while livestock carcasses were still inside awaiting burial.

he added. "I could go on all day like this but I know we havent the time," said Mr Strong, as he related a catalogue of mismanagement.

After the Army was called in to fight the disease, the whole process was speeded up and became much more efficient, Mr Strong said. Asked whether there was one thing that would have improved the handling of the crisis, Mr Strong said there was a lack of manpower during the early days of the crisis.

Nobody could have forecast how bad the epidemic was going to be, he added. But there was no coherent policy or contingency plan to fight the disease. Different bodies were trying to combat the disease but none of them appeared to agree with one another as to which strategy would be most effective.