The Government Submission to the Lessons Learned Inquiry can be downloaded here.""

Lord Whitty, Food and Farming Minister, said:

This was an outbreak on an unprecedented scale, the world's biggest ever outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

It should be remembered that the disease was on more than 50 holdings across the country before the index case was identified - the probable original farm at Heddon on the Wall.

The outbreak brought a huge response in effort and resources from Government, a wide range of public agencies and the farming industry. At its peak, there were five times as many vets working in the state veterinary service as in normal times.

The Armed Forces also performed with great professionalism and speed in dealing with one of the largest peacetime logistical problems in recent times.

A great many individuals, both within Government and in the community, worked incredibly hard to eradicate the disease. The UK regaining FMD-free status less than a year after the start of such a major outbreak was a tremendous achievement for all concerned. The farming industry and the rural community faced a dreadful time but they met the crisis with resilience and fortitude.

However there many of the measures that the government and the industry took were criticised both at the time and since. Undoubtedly there are some things that with hindsight we would do differently or better.

We already have drawn up revised interim contingency plans which build on our experience and are in place to guide our response to any further outbreak.

There are further lessons to be learned. The Lessons Learned and Royal Society inquiries will be comprehensive and fully independent; they will identify what should be done if we were faced with any future outbreak of animal disease.

We need to ensure that all the issues are investigated thoroughly but quickly, so that everyone concerned is able to identify the best way forward and can deal with any future outbreaks of animal disease in the most effective way.

DEFRA is contributing fully to the independent inquiry process, and is assisting the Lessons Learned Inquiry in any way possible.