26 July 2002



Its a Liquorice Allsorts report. Theres something to suit everyones taste in Dr Iain Andersons Lessons to be Learned Inquiry. For those critical of government policy, theres a devastating indictment of Cabinet dithering, poor communication and catastrophic planning failures.

For the more charitable, the report highlights the difficulties of foreseeing and combating the rapid spread of this disease. It is also points out: "The nation will not be best served by seeking to blame individuals."

Why not? After suicides, millions of animals slaughtered, many unnecessarily, and £bns-worth of costs, is no one accountable? Who decided not to call in army help until nearly one fatal month after the outbreak started? Who took the decision to slaughter animals on contiguous premises within a 48hr target?

We shall probably never know the answers because the government does not want to tell us. Only a public inquiry, with its powers to call witnesses to give evidence under oath, would provide reliable answers. Compared with such a rock, its tempting to conclude that the foundations of Dr Andersons report rests in the shifting sands of political expediency.

Nevertheless, his lessons to be learned contained much common-sense advice, some outlined in the Northumberland Report which followed the 1967 outbreak. Planning well rehearsed crisis procedures, using vaccination to combat the disease and keeping out infectious agents of exotic disease, are simple, perhaps, even self-evident precautions.

So why has DEFRA Secretary Margaret Beckett recently backed calls to relax trade restrictions which could see £bns of food imports flood into Britain? Food which, given our derisory import checks, could bring the renewed threat of human and animal disease.

Her words, voiced just before the publication of Dr Andersons report, will leave a bitter taste in many farmers mouths.

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