16 July 2001
Yes or No to a virus inquiry?
By Mike Stones
FWi users can have their say on whether there should be a full public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak in a new poll being conducted on the website.
Debate has raged over the issue, with most rural groups calling for this, but the National Farmers Union is arguing that a fast, independent inquiry is preferable.
Click here to vote
Calls for a public inquiry are being backed by FARMERS WEEKLY, and “Yes” votes in the poll will be forwarded to Tony Blair.
A FARMERS WEEKLY straw poll found that the NFU is isolated among a number of organisations and rural experts in its opposition.
NFU president Ben Gill said he would prefer to see a speedy, independent investigation rather than a public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis.
He explained: “Public inquiries tend to be very long and we need to learn the lessons of foot-and-mouth very quickly.”
The National Farmers Union Scotland also wants an independent inquiry. But president Jim Walker said he would not rule out a public inquiry.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Reverend Jim Thompson, said: “A public inquiry would help to get behind the myths to realities.”
“We need to know the causes, how to deal with it and above all, how to work back to a position of trust between government, the countryside, rural affairs and farming in particular,” he said.
Anthony Bosanquet, president of the Country Land and Business Association said: “Anything less than a public inquiry will make it much more difficult for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to establish itself with the public, rural population and the industry.”
Countryside Alliance chief executive Richard Burge said: “Pressure for the government to announce a comprehensive and independent public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis is reaching boiling point in the countryside.”
Shadow farm minister Tim Yeo said a full independent and public inquiry should question ministers and civil servants about their handling of the crisis.
“Anything less would smack of a white wash,” he said.
Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett has expressed sympathy with calls for an inquiry but declined to say whether it would be public.
Independent inquiries may be held behind closed doors, said Richard Barker, senior partner and head of agriculture with Ipswich law firm Barker Gotelee.