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Yorkshire Post Feb 2005

True story of foot-and-mouth still being hidden

From: Suzanne Greenhill, Former member of the National Foot and Mouth Disease Group, Parkside Avenue, Cockermouth, Cumbria.

THE recently-published National Audit Office report on the costs of over 3bn for the 2001 foot-and-mouth disaster shows that the Department of Food and Rural Affairs and the Government are still hiding or continuing to distort the true story.

Very early on in the crisis, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown refused to admit that the epidemic was out of control. Because of lack of a contingency plan, insufficient personnel on the ground and an almost total disbelief by the Government and Ministers that the situation was spiralling out of control, matters deteriorated very rapidly into chaos. The Treasury, ie Gordon Brown, would not release the funds for the Army until six weeks after the initial outbreak.

In panic, Tony Blair took control as he saw his intended election date opportunity threatened. He took the advice he wanted to hear by listening to the Imperial College team of computer modellers. These modellers had no veterinary knowledge whatsoever, but their untried idea promised Blair a quick enough solution to hold his election. The horrific solution was that animals must be slaughtered within 24 hours and carcasses disposed of within 48 hours. It also stipulated the illegal pre-emptive 3km cull. So the order went out from Blair to do whatever was necessary and at whatever cost. This policy went entirely against the EU Directive that said no healthy animals could be killed without first proper clinical and serological (blood) tests to decide if they were infected with the virus. Of those blood tested, less than one per cent were infected but slaughtered nonetheless.

Tragically, Blair's team of inadequate advisers also ignored the world-leading FMD experts on the use of vaccination which would have saved billions of pounds, millions of animals and the terrible suffering and economic loss of thousands by bringing the virus spread to a halt in days.

Mythical objections to consumption of vaccinated meat were raised although consumers have been eating imported vaccinated meat for decades, and contrary to what the public was told, there were millions of doses of the appropriate strain of foot- and- mouth disease vaccine available from the European Vaccine Bank. In the new Animal Health Bill, the Government has legalised the illegal policies it carried out in 2001, and removed the right of challenging them in a court of law.