Letter to the Journal (Newcastle) from John S Pearson

Sirs,

Elliot Morley (Journal 30 March 2002) may well be right when he says Defra had a contingency plan for dealing with foot-and-mouth disease. No doubt they had.

The point is they had a plan for dealing with an OUTBREAK of F&MD. When the disease was first officially identified at Heddon-on-the-Wall it was already an EPIDEMIC. The disease had been rampant for at least 3 months and possibly as long as 6 months. There was no way that a slaughter policy was going to contain it at this stage. The Dutch, who are also in the EU and are presumably working to the same rules, recognised this obvious fact and vaccinated, which duly controlled the disease in a matter of days. The World's leading F&MD scientists pleaded with the British Government to adopt a similar policy. They were ignored.

For this reason, amongst many others, there must be a full and open public inquiry into this tragedy. In refusing this reasonable request we can only assume the Government has something, maybe a lot, to hide.

Meanwhile we must be grateful to Lord Moran and his colleagues in the House of Lords for effectively scrapping the Animal Health (Death) Bill. Yours,
John S. Pearson

In reply to:

FMD plan required by EC since 1990

Your leader "Time to end the speculation" (March 27) is misleading in it's comments regarding the Defra contingency plan on foot-and-mouth disease.

Defra has been required since 1990 by the European Commission to have a structured contingency plan to deal with foot-and-mouth disease, which has been regularly updated. It has been available on the Defra website since August 2001.

The State Veterinary Service has guidance and procedures for dealing with diseases and all it's other responsibilities, which includes comprehensive and detailed information on FMD and contingency arrangements. This is required as part of the EU strategic contingency plan. This information is on Defra's internal intranet.

Local animal health offices also have had their own foot-and-mouth contingency plans for many years, which were updated most recently in 2000. These plans, originally based on recommendations from the Northumberland Committee report, including lists of emergency contact numbers and addresses in case of an outbreak. Regular exercises were carried out throughout the 1990's across the UK.

Finally, Defra published in March its interim operational contingency plan which is based on experience gained during this latest outbreak. This plan will be discussed and developed with stakeholders and tested.

It does not seek to prejudge the outcome of the inquiries and will be reviewed in the light of recommendations from the Anderson and Royal Society inquiries when they are published this summer to develop longer term contingency plans. Elliot Morley,

(Parliamentary Under Secretary - Commons),

Defra. Letters, The Journal, Newcastle.