From the Farmer's Guardian - April 26 2002

Food and Farming Minister Lord Whitty has again been forced on the defensive over the legality of the contiguous cull employed during foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Giving evidence to the European Parliament's foot-and-mouth inquiry earlier this month, he said the cull had been carried out with EU approval and that its legality had been tested in the courts.

These comments were challenged in debate in the House of Lords last week by a number of peers.

The Countess of Mar asked Lord Whitty to give precise reference to the EU approval ' as the relevant directives make no mention of the slaughter of animals not exposed to disease.' "Will he also tell us who are the relevant court cases?" she said.

In response, Lord Whitty reiterated his claims that the contiguous cull was legal and hit out at farmers who resisted it, "The legality of the cull is not in doubt," he said. "However it was inhibited and ineffective because we were unable to enter certain premises due to resistance bases on the current legal position."

He cited two cases which the Government won. MAFF v Winslade and Westerhall Farms v Scottish Ministers.

"The British courts and the EU endorsement therefore fully support the comments that I have made in Strasbourg and have repeated today" he said.

The Earl of Onslow said, however that a more relevant case involved Grunty the pig in June 2001.

"Mr. Justice Harrison, ruled that DEFRA was not entitled to apply a blanket slaughter policy and had to take specific circumstances into account. He ruled that the animals had shown no signs of disease and that it was sufficient that they were monitored and tested,"he said."There would seem to be no power of a blanket contiguous cull policy."

The indications are therefore that there has been no legal challenge that supports the Minister's contention that the contiguous cull was legal. On the face of it the (EU) directive appears to authorise only testing and examination.

Journalist and commentator Richard North, who works in the European parliament, says there is an 'urgent need' to determine whether the contiguous cull policy was legal in the context of UK and EU law, it has significant implications in that, being an illegal act, farmers and others who have suffered as a result could then be entitled to consequential losses.

It would also mean that the EU commission would not be authorised to reimburse payments made by the UK Government to farmers or the costs associated with the policy, he said.