F&M connection proves surprising revelation

7 December 2001

F&M connection proves surprising revelation

Whats the connection between TVs Big Brother and

foot-and-mouth? Roisin Woolnough explains

FOR someone who acquired the reputation of being a boring, conventional mumsy figure, Elizabeth Woodcock threw up a few surprises when she entered the Big Brother house. First there was the three women in the hot tub incident, then the naked photos of her that her boyfriend sold to The News of the World.

But perhaps the most surprising revelation is that prior to Big Brother, she was working for MAFF (now DEFRA), helping relocate animals when the foot-and-mouth crisis took hold.

The 27-year-old was fed up with her job as a web-site designer, missed being outdoors and having grown up in the Cumbrian countryside, she felt compelled to do her bit to help farmers overcome F&M. So she signed up to MAFF.

She discovered that a lot of farmers did not know what the government policy was – nor did she all the time. "It kept changing and they often wouldnt tell us. There was no one line of policy, which was very confusing and frustrating for us and the farmers," she says.

&#42 Hands dirty

Ms Woodcock soon realised that if she was to be of much help to the farmers, then she had to get her hands dirty and find out from them what needed doing. "MAFF tell you youre not there to help when you do the briefing, but you feel awful just standing there like a stuffed dummy with a clipboard. I started helping do things like counting and herding animals."

She says it also helped to break down barriers between her and the farmers so that she wasnt seen as the enemy.

She was astounded by how the documentation the farmers were required to read and adhere to was presented. "It was pages of conditions, all written in very technical language in English. For these farmers, their first language was Welsh. Some said to me that they hardly ever speak English. They didnt have the time to sit down and read pages of conditions. There should have been four or five main points to follow."

Much of the time the farmers had not even seen the licence and were just hoping what they were doing was right.

&#42 Incomprehensible

What is most incomprehensible of all to Woodcock is that the government did not have contingency plans in place in case F&M struck. The report drawn up after the F&M crisis in the 1960s recommended various precautionary measures and warned that the disease could easily wreak havoc on the farming community again. Some other countries update their policy on F&M every few years, just in case they suffer an outbreak.

Several of those countries had predicted that the UK was going to fall victim to the disease, according to Woodcock. "From what the farmers said to me, other countries, such as the Australians, said we were waiting to get F&M. We should have had contingency plans in place."

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