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WMN HELPS TO HIGHLIGHT 'INJUSTICE'

09:00 - 16 March 2004

Cornish swill feeder Vivien Cock said: "It would be nice to think we would get compensation although Defra's policy up to now has been that we won't, but we are not going to take that lying down. We are very pleased that the WMN has taken this up and is highlighting this injustice." Mr Cock has made a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman over the introduction of the ban on swill feeding, in which he pointed out that his pigs were fed on fish waste. His MP, Liberal Democrat Andrew George, said: "Mr Cock was one of a very large number of pig swill operators closed down very suddenly during 2001 and they were doing nothing wrong."


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FOOT AND MOUTH BLAMED ON MAFF

09:00 - 16 March 2004

A bid is to be made in the High Court to prove that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) was to blame for the spread of foot and mouth disease in 2001.

The dramatic claim will be made in a case being brought by a pig farmer seeking compensation from the Government.

It follows exclusive revelations in the WMN that Government vet Jim Dring admitted he could have stopped foot and mouth had he been more "rigorous" when inspecting the Northumberland pig farm which was the source of the devastating outbreak.

Maff's successor body, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has said it will contest the controversial claim.

The case being brought to the High Court by Staffordshire pig farmer Jason Podmore will claim that because Maff renewed an approval for Northumberland pig farmer Bobby Waugh to continue operating, the Government department, and Northumberland County Council's Trading Standards Department, were responsible for the outbreak of the disease, which occurred near Mr Waugh's farm.

The Western Morning News has revealed that Mr Dring had made a written submission in which he said if his inspection of Bobby Waugh's farm had been more rigorous, it might have prevented the spread of foot and mouth disease.

In a document which was never presented to the Lessons to be Learned Inquiry, chaired by Dr Iain Anderson, Mr Dring said he was forced to "cut corners" because of staff shortages in the State Veterinary Service.

Defra Secretary Margaret Beckett last week admitted that Mr Dring's submission was withheld from the Anderson inquiry.

Devon campaigner Brian Friend, who is giving legal representation to Jason Podmore, said that the withheld statement from Mr Dring confirmed that he had renewed the licence.

Mr Friend said: "Jim Dring admits in writing that if he had been a little bit more zealous in his inspection then Bobby Waugh would have been closed down."

He said Ministers tried to put the blame for foot and mouth on farmers who fed swill to pigs

"In my view the Government has made a cock up and gone after the swill feeders."

A Defra spokesman said yesterday: "A claim has been made alleging negligence and misfeasance in public office arising out of the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease against the Secretary of State.

"As this case is ongoing and presently being litigated before the High Court, Defra is not at liberty to discuss or comment on any of the details except to say that the Secretary of State is defending the claim."

Mr Dring's report suggests that local State Veterinary Service resources were "depleted" because of secondments to deal with an outbreak of "classical swine fever" in East Anglia and a veterinary officer vacancy.

The problems arising from the ban on feeding pig swill will be raised in a debate in the House of Commons today by the Conservative MP for Henley, Boris Johnson. "I think what the Government has done is disgraceful," he said. "I think Mr Podmore has a very good case in law for the frustration of his legitimate expectations."


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DISEASE IN THE HERD WAS NEVER A PROBLEM

09:00 - 16 March 2004

Government vet Jim Dring's admission revealed in the WMN that he could have prevented the devastating foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 prompted widespread calls for a public inquiry. Today we publish a second extract from Mr Dring's so-called 'aide memoire'

Sunday February 25

    Slaughter at Waugh's proceeds through the day and is finished soon after 6pm. Last carcasses leave Waugh's soon after 8pm. Day is relatively still - light breeze only - but severe weather warning (heavy snow) for dawn the next day makes lighting of fire this evening imperative.

    Against this time pressure factor, precautions against virus dissemination as carcasses are moved from Waugh's to Brown's are limited: carcasses are sprayed (feet and snouts) where they lay following slaughter and again in the teleporter bucket at Burnside Farm gate and again in the loaded trailer before it sets off up the road for Heddon View.

    Before each trailer is loaded, the crack between trailer body and tailgate is sealed with sawdust to prevent fluid run-off.

    The trailer-loads were not individually sheeted due to lack of suitable sheet and delay in (i) acquiring one and (ii) applying it to each load. Neither were carcass heads and feet individually bagged, due to impracticality, time-constraints and also lack of suitable materials. Neither was any pre-slaughter disinfection carried out.

    Fire (containing circa 917 pig/cattle/sheep carcasses from two farms) lit at 8.50pm.

    Wind at this time blowing to the SE.

    Monday February 26

    Fire checked at 5.45am - burning well. Light snow falling. Wind now blowing to the NW.

    Dr Kitching's team blood-sampled 221 Burnside pigs on this day. All 221 samples were tested for FMD antibody, with 195 (or 88 per cent) proving positive. This constitutes (a) further confirmation (if any be needed) that disease was indeed present on this site at this time as well as (b) a telling indication of the weight (and thus duration) of infection here. For amplification of (b), see Appendix Three, not 10.

    Disease at Burnside Farm

    In comparison with other swill premises I have visited, disease in the herd at Burnside Farm was never a problem. I was never called there because of sick pigs or suspected notifiable disease.

    Neither did I have cause to note, whilst present, any generalised debility or depression or sub-optimal performance due to the kind of respiratory or enteric problems which might commonly be seen on other similar such premises.

    The herd at Burnside was routinely a strong and healthy one, and this was because it comprised either adult animals (cull sows and boars fattened over short periods for slaughter - such animals fit, strong and old enough not be readily prone to such ailments), or good quality, well-grown younger stock which likewise tended to perform well there. The Waughs were in the business of producing fat pigs for slaughter, and in those strictly narrowly-defined terms they were good at their job. This herd was routinely strong, vigorous, well-grown, well-fed and healthy.

    Certainly I saw no notifiable disease there before 22 February 2001, nor was it ever suggested to me that such was present. On 24 February 2001 Dr Kitching expressed the opinion to me that the oldest FMD lesions he had seen on that day were 12 day old - ie, that the first visible signs of FMD would, in his opinion, have been seen on the farm on or about 12 February. With an added incubation period of eight-ten days, he told me he believed the virus would have been introduced into the herd between 2 and 4 February. My previous visit to Burnside before 22 February took place on 24 January (see below).

    On the strength of this independent epidemiological assessment, therefore, I feel safe in asserting that I did not on that date miss the presence in Waugh's herd of FMD. I say this not because I believe myself incapable of such a thing, but simply because disease at that time was not there, nor would have been present there for another nine-11 days, nor would have been visible (and thus discernible to any inspection, no matter how scrupulous) for another 19 days.

    Though it is perfectly legitimate that questions should be asked (and answered) concerning welfare standards at Burnside Farm, I should state at the outset that I see no direct connection between this topic and the appearance in the Waugh's herd during February 2001 of FMD. The two issues, though each of significance, are essentially separate.
A third extract will be printed tomorrow