Private Eye

Muckspreader 28 Jan

Ben Bradshaw, who in the past six months has become the most respected farming minister in history, has come up with yet another brilliant idea. He has paid a large sum of public money to a firm called Risk Solution Ltd to produce a cost-benefit analysis on the methods which might be used to tackle another foot-and-mouth epidemic. This, he says, with his usual gift for language, will "refine the Decision Tree" on "which disease option to use".

This paragraph could be set in an A-level paper with the question 'how many statements in this passage can be shown to be nonsensical?". For a start, apart from the fact that Mr Bradshaw's ignorance of all matters pertaining to his brief have made him a laughing stock, the idea that it might be necessary to spend taxpayers' money to establish the most cost-effective way to tackle a foot-and-mouth epidemic will produce a hollow laugh all the way from John O'Groats to Cornwall. All Mr Bradshaw need do is call for the cuttings on what happened in 2001, when his officials opted for their favourite method of coping with all animal diseases (i.e. to kill as many animals as possible), get out an envelope and write down the following figures. "Animals killed in 2001: say 9 million. Cost to economy of government's FMD policy: say £9 billion. Cost of slaughter policy per animal, £1000".

On the other side of the envelope, he should write down "emergency vaccination: cost per animal 50p". He should then get out his calculator and write "cost saved per animal by using vaccination: £999.50". Finally, he should write "Finding of cost benefit analysis carried out by Mr.Bradshaw: that vaccination would be the cheaper of the two options", announce it to the House of Commons, and he could throw himself back on the front-bench, flushed and pink-cheeked with pride, to universal cries of "Bradshaw for PM".

Alas for such dreams, Bradshaw's cost-benefit analysis is no more than the most cynical window dressing. The officials who gave him this proposal to read out know perfectly well that the cost of the botched, misconceived and illegal mass-slaughter policy in 2001 constituted a waste of money as insane as any in Britain's history. They know that the power to dictate the handling of any future FMD epidemic has now been handed over in toto to the EU food safety commissioner in Brussels, so that what the British government thinks is no longer of slightest relevance. Most important of all, they know that an EU directive introduced by commissioner David Byrne has now laid down that the first option in tackling any future epidemic will be vaccination.

In other words, the only mystery is why Mr Bradshaw should choose to throw away so much taxpayers' money on trying to pretend that he has any choice in the matter. The explanation lies in the fact that, thanks not least to the propaganda formerly put out by his own ministry, his officials believe that vaccination is so distrusted by the farming community that there might be wholesale resistance if it was introduced. They have therefore told Bradshaw that it would be wise to carry out this charade of a 'cost-benefit analysis' to demonstrate to farmers that it would be more sensible to vaccinate. The tragedy is that, with the exception of Ben Gill and the discredited NFU, the farmers already know this, so the whole exercise is totally unnecessary. But at least Risk Solution Ltd will be happy to co-operate in coming to such a predictable conclusion.