Quoted from the Evening Standard's article 24 July 2002


It is tempting to say 'we told you so' but it usually doesn't help. As Margaret Beckett said in her gracious response to the findings of the Anderson Report, the outbreak of foot and mouth disease last year was 'a nightmare'. It devastated rural Britian and it left an indelible impact on millions of people who felt contaminated themselves by watching the mass slaughter and the funeral pyres night after night on television news. But in this case a bit of 'we told you so' is needed.

As President of the Soil Association, which leads the organic movement in this country, I played some part at the time in the debate about what we regarded as a hideous strategy that was bound to fail. In 'Lessons to Learn, Iain Anderson points out these failings with relentless clarity. But he seems to shy away from the real lesson to learn: that there is an alternative strategy which would have worked and must be used next time.

The really ghastly self-inflicted 'nightmare' was to reject the case for vaccination except as 'a last resort' - in itself a meaningless concept. As the Soil Association argued at the time, 'ring vaccination' to stop the spread of an outbreak from the hotspots would have been swifter and more effective than the so-called 'contiguous cull' of millions of healthy animals. Long before the crisis had peaked, I argued that vaccination also offered 'the only available prospect of an early reprieve from the mass carnage which has become a nightly horror show with a worldwide audience'. No wonder, desp;te ministerial bleating to the contrary, that the countryside was - in reality - closed for business.

Anderson does genuflect toward the case for vaccination but he seems to shy away from the impications of his analysis. In her Commons statement yesterday, Mrs Beckett accepted his recommendation that the 'option' of emergency vaccination should 'form part of any future strategy for the control of FMD' but gave no indication what that carefully crafted but singularly imprecise phrase ws supposed to mean. I hope it means the Government now acknowledges that the case for vaccination is overwhelming but doesn't quite like to admit it in public. I hope it means that - God forbid- if there is a next time, the Soil Association's advice will not just be heard but heeded as well. And I also hope it means that the last resort mantra will be consigned to the funeral pyre.


The Government not only needs to admit past errors (it had precious little choice anyway), but it must now be open with us. It must unambiguously put a vaccination strategy at the very heart of its contingency planning and explain the reasons for this wise volte-face. If it does, then we will never again be tempted to say 'we told you so,'. Far more important, we shall never again face such a nightmare.