Farmers Guardian 27 July 2001


Pressure maintained for public inquiry


Farmers' foot and mouth disease compensation cheques are being paid by the "EU Livestock Reduction Fund" according to Farmers Guardian readers who have contacted FG to support our call for a public enquiry into the disease.


Compensation cheques are paid directly into farm bank accounts rather than being sent first to the farmer. FG readers say they only became aware that cheques were not drawn on DEFRA or the Government when they were alerted by bank staff.


This has reinforced many farmers' fears foot and mouth is being used by the Government as an excuse to reduce the number of farmers and their livestock.


Pressure for a public inquiry into foot and mouth disease has been maintained in the last week despite Prime Minister Tony Blair's opposition. Since Farmers Guardian, with readers' support, first campaigned for a public inquiry, others, including farming journals, have followed FG's example.


The national press, too, has called on Mr Blair to instigate a public inquiry. A leading article in Tuesday's Daily Mail says Mr Blair is unwilling to see the Government's actions held to account.


Also on Tuesday Conservative Party leader William Hague, MP for Richmond (Yorkshire) said in response to the Government's decision to halt farm cleansing operations: "Once again we see the need for a full and independent inquiry into the whole foot and mouth crisis which the Government has so far denied."


Farming and other rural organisations have not been put off by Mr Blair's resistance to a public inquiry. This week the Farmers Union of Wales president Bob Parry said he was thoroughly dismayed; the Country Land and Business Association pledged to continue to press for a public inquiry and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons wants an inquiry to focus, among other things, on why foot and mouth occurred and spread.


Many farmers have told FG they feel the Government is attempting to blame the farming community for the disease, its spread and the cost to the taxpayers.


Viscountess Lowther whose family farms near Penrith, Cumbria contacted FG this week to say she was organising a petition for a public inquiry. She had been angered, she said, by the way in which slaughtering in the county had been carried out and the general handling of the epidemic.


She told FG: "Nearly everyone I know has been affected in one way or another by foot and mouth and we all want a public inquiry and we want it while we are still angry.


"The mistakes MAFF made at the beginning have ruined our farming industry. We suspect the delay in calling in the army was deliberate. We also think the disease was the only way that this Government could force farmers into reducing livestock in the UK. We believe it was intended that we should be wiped out. Other countries have eradicated the disease and are now exporting.


"If all those who have been affected join forces with the farmers we will have real people power. We can force a public inquiry. We intend to march on Downing Street with our petition later this year.


"My heart goes out to everyone who has suffered, especially the children. This must never happen again. A public inquiry will make sure it doesn't, if we ever get to the truth."