Gill claims vaccination victory

'We won the argument and have been proved correct'

by Alistair Driver

BEN Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, has defended his controversial role in preventing animals being vaccinated against foot--and-mouth disease, ahead of his appearance at the European Parliament's inquiry into the crisis.

Mr Gill, who will give evidence in Strasbourg, on Monday, claims he won a major victory for farm ers by changing the Government's mind about vaccination. The controversy over the sub ject has refused to die down a year on from when it split the farming community down the middle and evidence now being given to the various foot and mouth inquiries is bringing it to the fore again.

Mr Gill had been vilified for his role in the saga in some sec tions of the media and by pro vaccination campaigners who believed he was not representing the views of most farmers. But he told FG he now feels totally vindicated.

"There was a strong lobby last year for vaccina tion, principally from green groups, led by the Soil Association. We won the argument and have been proved correct.
The disease was eradicated by the cull and we were then in a position to re establish our industry far earlier than anyone thought possible," he said.
"Nobody in their wildest dreams, even in August, thought we would have been allowed back into the sheep export market in 2001. That had immediate effect on the sheep market price, but if we had vaccinated we would have been looking at least another 12 months."

He said vaccination would have created a two tier market in the UK as retailers would have labeled vaccinated products.

There were also unanswered questions about the effectiveness of the policy on disease control.

Tony Blair was ready to order vaccination of cattle in Cumbria and Devon last Easter, in mid April. Mr Gill said he had a private meeting at the time with the Prime Minister, who promptly changed his mind.

He insisted that he did not force the Prime Minister by saying that farmers would not co operate with vaccination but put forward a persuasive argument after widespread consultation across the food industry.

Mr Gill said the cull policy was right in principle, 'given that the unavailability of a proper effective vaccination policy meant there was no alternative'.

The cull was not sufficiently targeted at the farms most at risk, but there was a lot of myth around about animals being culled unnecessarily.

"People have to realise that there was no effective test available to diagnose an animal that was infected but not infective," he said.

He said he was pleased to be co operating with the EU inquiry, which was providing an 'independent and open investi gation'.

His evidence on vaccination will be monitored closely by pro-vaccination campaigners already angry at recent Government admissions that the NFU played a big role in its policy.

Explaining why it did not vaccinate, the Government's submission to the Anderson inquiry said: "Farmers unions were strongly opposed throughout."

These words were echoed by Nick Brown in his evidence to the EU inquiry.

Responding to Mr Brown, Helen O'Hare, a temporary vet erinary inspector during the crisis, said the NFU did not represent the majority of farmers and were not experts at disease control.

Writing on the Warmwell website, she also attacked the excuse that a two tier domestic market would have developed, claiming the consumer already buys vaccinated meat and EU money was available to offset losses.

Countering other reasons put forward by the Government for not vaccinating, she said "There were enough vaccines available and blanket vaccination would have eliminated the disease within one month. There is no scientific reason for a 12 month ban on exports following vaccination and the EU could end all financial penalties of using vaccination at a stroke." ends