Not so much an alibi, more like a post-dated admissionfrom Country Illustrated in March 2002
Bald and unconvincing as it is, the government's get-out on foot-and-mouth disease still stands the evidence on its head. Now they are asking for the right to do it all over again.......... EXTRACT: ...What is it all for? Why does Government want these Stalinist powers? Their case is that they need emergency powers (for that is what they amount to) now in order to control effectively any new outbreak. They are asking for the power to operate a contiguous or firebreak cull policy to allow them to slaughter any animals, particularly those not exposed to the foot and mouth virus, in undefined areas, as and when they see fit. The sub-text to this is the contention that farmers who resisted the cull of their healthy animals by legal means were irresponsible, and contributed to the spread of the disease elsewhere. Under the proposals of this Animal Health Bill, that right to judicial appeal would disappear.
T .....there is still no scientific justification for the contiguous cull policy. This hitherto unheard of concept has been invented by computer modellers with no veterinary training, and no specialist knowledge of foot and mouth disease. There is no evidence that the policy made any difference to the outbreak except to cause anger and distrust among the farming community, and financial grief to the taxpayer.....
The truth is that while the government is spinning hard to blame farmers for the fall out from foot and mouth disease, the real culprit was the Government itself. In the absence of a Public Inquiry, we must applaud the action of Devon County Council in holding its own Inquiry under the chairmanship of Professor Ian Mercer CBE. Its conclusions are damning. As Professor Mercer states in his foreward,
"It is clear that the outbreak and the handling of the ensuing crisis was lamentable" he evidence in the Report, published in full on January 21, included shocking examples of cruelty, insensitivity and ineptitude.
Professor Mercer and his Committee have this to say about contiguous culling: "The arbitrary way in which the "contiguousness" was determined in remote offices called the whole exercise into question and it had horrifying consequences for many farms. That and the reports received by the inquiry of insensitive and even belligerent operatives and bungled culls do little to enhance the reputation of those involved. From Ministers downwards, the evidence presented to us is overwhelmingly critical of the balance of effective need against unnecessary killing of healthy stock under the contiguous cull policy as carried out by MAFF."
....DEFRA has in consequence lost the trut and confidence of the farming industry and rural communities in general. Until that trust is restored, no wonder there is countryside alarm at a ministry being trusted with more power. It clearly misused the powers which it already had.