29 October 2001
We made mistakes, admits minister

By Adrienne Francis

FOOD and Farming Minister Lord Whitty has admitted that the government made mistakes in its handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The Labour peer was responding to a preliminary report from the Devon public inquiry into the epidemic, published on Monday (29 October).

He dismissed suggestions that the government was ill-prepared for the crisis but admitted that its contingency plan should have been better publicised.

There was a contingency plan which was continually updated, Lord Whitty insisted to reporters during a media briefing in London.

But it was not sufficiently shared with stakeholders, he admitted.

Future contingency plans must be shared more widely and be subject to widespread testing to make sure they are effective, Lord Whitty said.

Nevertheless, he defended the policy of trying to cull livestock on infected farms within 24 hours and those on nearby farms within 48 hours.

Had the 24-48 hour cull been fully effective, it would have been the best way of controlling the disease, Lord Whitty said.

But logistical problems and resistance among farmers had slowed it down.

Lord Whitty also defended the governments decision not to vaccinate against the disease, saying too few farmers had supported the idea.

The government had considered vaccination very seriously, but would have needed 80-90% compliance for it to be successful, he said.

Lord Whitty acknowledged there was understandable concern over burning pyres which were clearly not the best way to deal with the disease.

And he described the issue of illegal meat imports, blamed by some people for bringing foot-and-mouth into the UK, as quite serious.

This is something we need to tackle and must address, he said.

However, in the global system, there is always bound to be some leakage of the disease no matter how many checks are made.

The key element is then to ensure that it doesnt get into the food chain, so we need to address food security to control spread around the country.

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