An Open Letter to all DEFRA Vets 1st November 2001

Dear DEFRA Vets,

Today, the postman delivered a pamphlet from DEFRA entitled " Golden Rules for a Healthy Flock". I did read it and, in my opinion, it was a competent and useful summary of health matters that farmers should consider on re-stocking. Unfortunately, coming as it did, a day after the new Animal Health Bill was published, I think many will have consigned it angrily to the bin. I even found myself saying, "Fine- but why the hell should we bother?"

Have you read the bill? I think you should. Her Majesty's Government may make the laws pertaining to animal health but you are the people who have to go out and implement them so it is probably a good idea to find out exactly what you are letting yourself in for.

MAFF/DEFRA has had a caning from farmers, the media and the public over FMD with much justification. However, the State Veterinary Service is a vastly weakened organisation to the Service I joined many years ago. I am sure most people did their best with honesty and sensitivity in exceedingly difficult situations but I fear that does nothing for the distrust and downright hate the name of MAFF/DEFRA generates in some farming circles.

And now you are to be empowered to go onto any farm, at any time, for any reason dictated by the Government and slaughter any animal, irrespective of whether it has been exposed to disease. You will be empowered to force the farmer or anyone else present to assist you and they can be prosecuted if they refuse. One is tempted to ask whether you will be supplied with jackboots - but that might be regarded as flippant!

Obviously, disease control is important and it will be said that such powers will only be used in an emergency. Regrettably, once powers are available, they will be used. We have lived with scrapie for 200 years or more. We have lived with BSE in cattle since the middle 1980s. No case of BSE has been demonstrated in the sheep flock in all that time, so why the rush now to eradicate scrapie (and much of the ram population)? Is it just because an ill-considered experiment went wrong? If, suddenly, it is such a national emergency that these draconian powers are required, then perhaps we should all be told.

I think you have to ask yourself whether this isn't a step too far, Are you in DEFRA to improve the health of animals and assist farmers or to act as a subsidiary Government police force? It may be your duty to obey,but you can still complain.

When I was in the Ministry there were successful protests about pay - are not the rights of the farming community and the welfare of animals as important?

Please make your voice heard if you feel this is wrong - after all, whilst it is a job, it looks like becoming a damned miserable one for you - and for that you have my sympathy.

Yours faithfully
Janet Thain
Clungunford, Shropshire