'Selective amnesia' claim at Brussels probe into outbreak

Lords Reject Animal Health Bill

Western Morning News

The first British Minister to face public grilling over the foot and mouth crisis was last night accused of failing to give an accurate account of the Governments handling of the outbreak

Nick Brown who was sacked as Agricultural Minister before the crisis was brought under control last year appeared before a special EU inquiry in Brussels to be quizzed by MEP's.

But one of his interrogators - Somerset Farmer and Wet country MEP Neil Parish - attacked the minister's version of events. He said "Mr Brown has selective amnesia".

And the bad day for the Government on foot and mouth worsened after a vote last night in the House of Lords which threw New Labour's Animal Health Bill into jeopardy.

Junior environment minister Lord Whitty said the vote would wreck the Government's attempts to legislate on culling powers in the current parliamentary session.

As Mr Brown - now minister of State for Work - was quizzed by MEP's at yesterday's hearing, he insisted that the Government had acted swiftly and in line with European Union requirements in tackling the outbreak.

But Allayne Addy a campaigning Devon solicitor who helped many South West farmers oppose the contiguous cull, rejected Mr Brown's version of events instead describing the Government as being "swamped in a crisis with inadequate resources and a policy that changed by the hour."

She told the inquiry:" There was a huge confusion over who was doing what. Utter chaos reigned, with, in some cases, clean-up teams arriving before the culls had taken place. There was a lack of respect, sympathy and consideration for farmers and their livestock".

Mr Parish said last night "Mr Brown waxed lyrical about how wonderful his team had been, but sat in stunned silence after Mrs Addy's evidence".

He added" Mr Brown has selective amnesia because his evidence was just not credible".

The EU cross-party inquiry has no legal powers but will produce recommendations about how European governments should cope with any future outbreaks on farms. The MEP's are particularly looking on whether a current ban on vaccination should be revised. The ban is in place because vaccination itself costs EU farmers their status as "disease free", automatically closing export markets.

Mr Brown told the committee that introducing vaccination to cope with disease outbreaks would render animals and farmers2compromised2 beyond the end of the outbreak.

But the Government did believe that the EU's policy on vaccination had to be reviewed he said.

The Government's contingency plan for coping with the foot and mouth outbreak was implemented swiftly, along lines approved by the EU, Mr Brown said.

In total, 7,000 civilian and military personnel were drafted in - amounting to a bigger logistical exercise for the Government that Britain's involvement in the Gulf War.

Throughout the crisis, he said, communications were maintained with Mr Brown himself or his fellow ministers making 40 appearances in Parliament to answer questions on the crisis. In addition there were extensive press briefings, and Mr Brown had written three times to all 150.000 livestock farms in Britain to keep farmers appraised.

He said "Throughout the outbreak - and since- I have placed an absolute premium on openness about the Government's approach, the issues had to deal with and our strategy in the future. Communication and openness were also key to our success in eradicating the outbreak.

Ian Johnson, spokesman for the South West National Farmer's Union, said "We know mistakes were made. Even now with Mr Brown going to this inquiry in Europe, that isn't going to diminish the understandable wish of those that have been calling for a public inquiry here in Britain.

Current agriculture Minister Margaret Beckett is also expected to appear before the committee.