National Press at warmwell.com
Green reform urged for CumbriaCUMBRIAN agriculture should be reformed so farmers are encouraged to boost the rural environment in the wake of foot-and-mouth disease, say conservationists. The call came from Nick Mason, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who has given evidence to the Cumbrian public inquiry into last year's epidemic. A decline in rural biodiversity across Cumbria over the past 30 years must be acknowledged, he told an inquiry hearing in Kendal on Friday (10 May).
Mr Mason urged the inquiry team to consider the findings of the government's report on future of food and farming published earlier this year by Sir Donald Curry. Sir Donald's report said farmers should be paid more to protect the environment through the modulation of food production subsidies. It also called for the formation of a "broad and shallow" environment scheme so more farmers could be paid to protect the environment
Mr Mason said some 40% of farmland in Cumbria currently received agri-environment support but 80% of that money was spent on upland farms. Lowland farms should also have the opportunity to benefit, he added. Furthermore, Cumbria should take the lead on providing advice to farmers who wanted to participate in agri-environment schemes, Mr Mason said.
However, none of the above measures are an alternative to the restructuring of the Common Agricultural Policy, but they represent a key step forward, he continued.
But the inquiry chairman said there was a need to balance sustainable rural development with improving the environment, a point acknowledged by Mr Mason.
Mr Mason admitted that he was also uncertain as to where any funding for a new agri-environment scheme for lowland farmers would come from.
However he said there was a thirst for change among farmers who wanted to farm in a more environmental manner and the RSPB was trying to encourage that change.
Charles Flanagan and Nick Hill from the National Trust said Ministry of Agriculture officials had lacked knowledge of hill-farming in Cumbria. Mr Hill said officials had failed to realise it was lambing time and were unable to tell farmers whether they should bring sheep down from the hills or leave them there. Hefted flocks of "great cultural value" had been endangered, he said
posted May 11 2002
New powers for government inspectors to kill animals infuriates farmers' unionSheila Coleman Farming Editor, The Western Mail
FARMERS last night railed against new rules which they claim give Government inspectors powers to enter farms and slaughter animals against their owners' wishes. They have accused the Government of introducing the new regulations "through the back door" just weeks after the House of Lords defeated similar measures that were contained in the Animal Health Bill.
"I am disgusted by the depths to which this Government will stoop to force its will on the people," said the Farmers' Union of Wales president, Bob Parry. "There has been no proper debate in Parliament on these very important issues which could potentially have a severe impact on the livelihoods of thousands of people. "Instead of an open and democratic debate the Government has acted in an underhand way by slipping these new regulations through on the back of a weighty document concerning the spread of scrapie in sheep." The new regulations apply to Transmissible Spongiform Encephalitis (TSE), diseases such as BSE and scrapie. Previously, government inspectors had to have reason to suspect the presence of these diseases on farms. But the new powers mean inspectors can use "reasonable force" to enter any premises housing "TSE susceptible animals" and slaughter all animals.
The new powers give the Government the power to cull any cattle, sheep, goat or cat, and impose a penalty of up to two years in prison on anyone who obstructs the government inspectors in their work. The inspectors also have the power to cull animals irrespective of whether they are healthy or not. In addition, the powers give inspectors and "any other persons as he considers necessary", such as the police, the Army or slaughtermen, the right to seize computers or other records.
Similar powers - but extended to other animal health diseases such as foot-and-mouth - were contained in the Animal Health Bill which was defeated in the House of Lords at the end of March. The FUW says the new regulations were contained in the depths of a 220-page document, primarily designed to assess the spread of scrapie in sheep, which was published just before Easter, and the new regulations have been in force since April 19 - although they have only just been publicised.
Mr Parry said the lack of a right to appeal appeared to breach the Human Rights Act, and said his union would be pursing the matter with Government Ministers in both London and Cardiff. He added, "It is also fundamentally wrong to criminalise farmers for refusing to participate actively in the slaughter of their livestock. Any objection by a farmer against the slaughter of his healthy animals could be met with a two-year prison term, which is an outrageous state of affairs."
But the National Farmers' Union Cymru said the new regulations merely "update and consolidate" existing UK legislation to bring it into line with European Union law. "The NFU believes that enforcing strong TSE regulations is essential to minimise any risk whatsoever of, for example, an animal infected with BSE entering the human food chain, and we would be surprised if any responsible person thought other-wise," said spokesman Keith Jones.
May 11 2002
Lucky survivor back in the herdA LUCKY Cumbrian bull that avoided a foot-and-mouth cull is now back in Furness fields doing his bit to restore the county's decimated beef herd.
Aberdeen Angus bull `William Coal Yeat', of Bridgefield Farm in Lowick, escaped the slaughterman's gun after catching the eye of a Shropshire stockman at last year's Royal Lancashire Show. "It was incredibly fortunate," explained William's owner and rare breed livestock farmer John Sutcliffe. "This fellow breeder had trouble getting his cows in calf so I said he could borrow him for two months. That two months turned into 21." While the young stud was gainfully employed serving southern cows, foot-and-mouth struck down Mr Sutcliffe's own herd just over a year ago on April 29. Some 100 rare breed pigs, five sheep and 150 pedigree Angus cattle were culled, including one of the county's most decorated prize bulls, Wedderlie Ebolord. The cull represented the loss of ten years' breeding work for Mr Sutcliffe, whose family has farmed in Lowick for 40 years. He estimated that during the crisis more than 1,000 Aberdeen Angus stock ended up on North Cumbria's pyres, totalling around 80 per cent of the county's entire stock.
Mr Sutcliffe, who earns the bulk of his income through his Lowick firm Abacus Printers, then faced the difficult question: to farm or not to farm. "Lots of thoughts go through one's mind. The biggest one is simply are you actually able to cope with the stress of having animals on the farm again having seen them all destroyed? Can you commit wholeheartedly to a new enterprise having had it ripped away from you and gone through the trauma of that experience?" But all was not lost for the Sutcliffe herd because of William, their one-tonne survivor, a factor that weighed in when he was debating whether to restock. "It means a massive amount.
He has bloodlines in his system that are the most successful on the farm. Other herds with similar bloodlines were taken out in Cumbria. One of the young stock from that blood line won the best home-bred animal at the Cheshire Show."
posted May 11 2002
Supermarkets challenged over local produceCountryside campaigners are challenging supermarkets to increase the promotion of locally-grown food. The want shops to increase buying of foods like England's speciality cheeses and local apples. It's claimed local foods can bring significant benefits to farmers, to consumers, to local economies and the environment.
Supermarkets are urged to set a clear definition of "local foods" so customers know products promoted as local are just that. ........... It points out that a survey has found the chains have no accepted definition of what a local food is, and their aspirations for promoting local foods were vague.
May 11 2002
CULL POWERS 'BEING FORCED THROUGH'JASON GROVES
Western Morning News: Opinion
A former Minister last night accused the Government of "contempt of Parliament" over plans to force through sweeping new animal health powers without debate just weeks after similar proposals were thrown out by the House of Lords.
Angela Browning, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, called on the Leader of the House, Robin Cook, to order an emergency Commons debate on an obscure Government motion that will give Ministers wide-ranging powers to order the slaughter of farm animals against the wishes of their owners.
The 220-page "statutory instrument" includes powers for Government officers to cull any cow, sheep goat or cat - whether healthy or not - and imposes a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment on any owner who obstructs officers.
The powers also give inspectors, and other bodies, such as police, Army or slaughtermen, powers to seize computers or records. Similar powers covering a wide range of animal diseases, including foot and mouth, were thrown out by the Lords last month during the passage of the Government's Animal Health Bill.
Mrs Browning, a former agriculture minister, said it was wrong for the Government to now use secondary legislation, which is not normally debated, to bring in such measures.
During exchanges on coming parliamentary business, she told Mr Cook that the Statutory Instrument on Animal Health was "legislation by stealth".
"This is a contempt of the House and we should have a full explanation as to how it came into being," she said. She said the regulations gave additional powers to the Government to enter property and slaughter owners' animals without their consent.
She added after the exchanges: "All of this needs proper scrutiny yet as things stand we are not even going to get a vote on it. If primary legislation was needed three weeks ago to bring in these powers then I cannot see why it is not needed now. "I only learned about this when vets and the sheep industry in my constituency said they had not been consulted.
"If the Government say there is nothing new here then let's have a proper debate and scrutiny. It seems to me they have lifted large chunks of the Bill that was blocked by the Lords after a proper debate."
Mrs Browning warned that if the measure went uncontested it could create a precedent, allowing Ministers to bring in similar measures for the control of foot and mouth. ,
Mr Cook turned down the request for a debate, saying that the slaughter powers proposed "already exist". The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also insisted that the measure was largely designed to bring British legislation in line with Europe.
A spokeswoman said Ministers already had entry and slaughter powers to deal with BSE. She said the only new measures covered BSE testing and disposal of potentially infected material. She denied that the introduction of the measure followed the Government's defeat on the Animal Health Bill, saying that it had first been put forward last summer.
But several peers expressed anger at the Government's decision to introduce such measures so soon after the Lords had rejected the Animal Health Bill.
The Countess of Mar tabled a motion to allow peers to debate - and block - the measures, which will come into force at the end of next week.
Lady Mar, a cross-bencher, said: "We are all livid about this. It only came to light because one of my colleagues on a joint committee noticed it. But basically the regulation allows an inspector the right to go and kill all the animals."
North Devon peer Lord Arran accused the Government of using "backdoor" methods to "sneak in" powers that would otherwise be blocked.
Lord Arran, a former Tory Minister, said: "The blocking of the Animal Health Bill was a victory for common sense. I would have thought that something of this importance needs primary legislation and should certainly be debated." WMN Opinion - Page 10
LORD WHITTY CLAIMS SLAUGHTER WAS LEGALThere was an angry reaction yesterday to comments by Lord Whitty in the House of Lords.
Western Morning News
The Minister for food and farming, who is due to talk with Westcountry retailers and farmers at a meeting in Taunton later today, told peers that the contiguous cull was legal because only two cases went to court and both were successful. But the owners of Grunty, a pet pig, who won their High Court battle to save the animal from slaughter, were furious.
"That's completely untrue," said her owner Rosemary Upton. "In fact the judge ordered them to pay costs and even refused them leave of appeal."
The comments from Lord Whitty came during a short debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday. He told the house: "On the two occasions when the contiguous cull was tested in the courts it was upheld. There was no challenge to the general operation of the cull; therefore all precedent indicates that the cull was legal."
Solicitor Alayne Addy said she was aware of at least five cases in which the Government's legal team went to court. And she said in all instances that challenge was regarding ministry officials' right of access to slaughter animals.
May 10 2002
Virus hit rural healthTHE chairman of a rural health project opened by the Prince of Wales has told how farmers were distressed and isolated by the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Jim Cox, chairman of the Northern Fells Rural Project, said there were 113 confirmed cases of the disease in the area covered by his Cumbrian medical practice. But foot-and-mouth made it difficult to provide adequate health care to patients, , Dr Cox told the Cumbrian public inquiry into the crisis on Thursday (9 May).
Dr Cox said he was worried by the "mental distress" caused by the crisis, and everyone, almost without exception, had been in grieving. However, although most farmers had restocked, some producers hit by foot-and-mouth were yet to decide whether to continue in agriculture. Other farmers had a different mix of livestock than before, said Dr Cox. "The future for farming seems to be to be unresolved. The big farms are getting bigger and the fell farms are continuing in the hope they will be sustained by public policy." Asked what the long-term health implications were of the outbreak, Dr Cox said the situation was gradually returning to normal.
People once isolated and stuck on their farms were now talking face-to-face rather than on the telephone, he continued. Cricket matches had been planned for this season and social events were making a comeback, said Dr Cox who praised the resilience of the local population.
"I think this typifies a strong community," he added. The inquiry continues in Kendal until Friday (10 May). It will then visit local farms and businesses before reconvening in Carlisle later this month.
May 10 2002
Moving account of virus chaosA CUMBRIAN livestock producer and county councillor has given a moving personal account of how last year's foot-and-mouth crisis hit his farm last March. Farmer Gary Strong - councillor for Penrith Rural - told how one of his cows calved five days after it was shot, but not killed. Giving evidence to the inquiry at Cumbria County Council's offices in Kendal on Thursday (9 May), he said the backlog of livestock awaiting slaughter was a major problem during the crisis. Conflicting advice was given regarding the disposal of carcasses.
Cumbria was the county worst hit by the disease. It suffered 893 of Britain's 2030 confirmed foot-and-mouth cases during last year's epidemic. But there was a lack of resources, especially fork-lift trucks and fore-arm handlers, said Mr Strong, who supplied the inquiry with photographic evidence and video footage. Confusion meant disinfectant teams turned up to clean buildings while livestock carcasses were still inside awaiting burial, he added.
"I could go on all day like this but I know we haven't the time," said Mr Strong, as he related a catalogue of mismanagement. After the Army was called in to fight the disease, the whole process was speeded up and became much more efficient, Mr Strong said. Asked whether there was one thing that would have improved the handling of the crisis, Mr Strong said there was a lack of manpower during the early days of the crisis. Nobody could have forecast how bad the epidemic was going to be, he added.
But there was no coherent policy or contingency plan to fight the disease.
Different bodies were trying to combat the disease but none of them appeared to agree with one another as to which strategy would be most effective. Local vets and government officials were trying their hardest but higher ranking civil servants were "sometimes damn rude" and gave conflicting advice, Mr Strong said. The inquiry continues in Kendal until Friday (10 May). The inquiry team will then visit local farms and businesses before reconvening in Carlisle later this month.
May 10 2002
Disease 'went out of control'May 8 2002
Mike Parker Newsdesk@Wme.Co.Uk, The Western Mail THE man who led the foot-and-mouth disease culling operation for the Army told an inquiry yesterday the outbreak could have been contained if strict quarantine procedures had been put in place. Brigadier Alex Birtwhistle, who has since retired, told the first day of the Cumbria foot-and-mouth disease inquiry in Kendal how he faced a lack of resources and no policy direction when he took on the operation.
The outbreak, which decimated the farming and tourism industry in Wales, could have been contained to Cumbria if proper resources had been put in place. He had 130 officers in the area and was "grossly overstretched", he said, adding, "The scale of the operation was massive. "There were insufficient resources to deal with the outbreaks. There were 30-40 outbreaks a day and we neither had a disposal site or a clear policy." At the end of March last year he was asked to support the Ministry of Agriculture in the crisis which was caused by the disease.
He told the hearing, "I immediately noted a long delay between diagnosis (of the disease) and slaughter, which was running at four or five days. "I noted an absence of resources - trucks, slaughtermen, and guns. Most critically there was a backlog of animals lying on the ground." Mr Birtwhistle said one estimate was that 50,000 animals were lying waiting to be disposed of, and added, "But I believe it was more than twice that. Some of those bodies had been there for two or three weeks." A vital policy on disposing of the carcasses was not available, he said, adding, "No risk assessment had been carried out at a national or regional level.
"All crises, by definition, contain risks. There are political risks, there were public health risks and there were long-term environmental risks. "All these risks must be assessed, prioritised and managed. I concluded that these risks had not been satisfactorily assessed." He said that during a meeting with Tony Blair, the Prime Minister asked him if he thought the procedures in place would hold up. "I said 'No'," Mr Birtwhistle told the inquiry panel. "He then instructed me to get on with it." Mr Birtwhistle said no organisation or agency in charge had a plan to deal with the crisis, adding, "I had a contingency plan for everything - aero-plane crashes, nuclear disasters - but not foot-and-mouth."
By the time he became involved, the crisis was out of control, he said, adding, "I started off with no trucks at all. "There was a critical shortage of vets. Many slaughtermen were un-qualified. "If there had been a policy it would have been much better." If a plan on whether to burn or bury the carcasses had been in place, the operation would have moved quicker and more successfully, he told the inquiry.
posted May 10 2002
FURY AT BID TO EXTEND CULL POWERSPeers are furious over a Government move to introduce tough powers to seize and slaughter farm animals against owners' wishes.
Their anger has been fuelled because only last month the House of Lords crushed similar measures in the Animal Health Bill. Now the new powers give Government officials the right to cull any cow, sheep, or goat - whether healthy or not - and impose a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment on any owner who obstructs inspectors. In the past inspectors had to have a reason to suspect the presence of a transmissible disease like BSE or scrapie. However, the new powers also give inspectors and the police, Army or slaughter officials powers to seize computers or records.
The new regulations were published before Easter by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. But under Commons rules MPs have until the end of next week to debate the legislation, contained in a statutory instrument, before it automatically becomes law. MPs can debate the regulations through a "prayer" but this does not allow amendments to be tabled and would mean either accepting or rejecting the entire document. The House of Lords will be able to debate the new regulations next Wednesday, May 15, however. The Countess of Mar, a farmer who keeps goats and the holder of an ancient Scottish hereditary title, aims to challenge the Government next week.
Lady Mar, a cross bencher, has put down a "prayer" to annul the changes and told PA News: "We are all livid about this. It only came to light because one of my colleagues on a joint committee noticed it ... but basically the regulation allows an inspector the right to go and kill all the animals." Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Peter Ainsworth said the legislation would give the Government "an inappropriate extension of its powers". "We are all in favour of measures to eliminate scrapie but very few people are going to be in favour of measures that will allow officials to kill just about any farm animal except the dog."
May 9 2002
Farm slaughter powers are slipped past MPsBy Robert Uhlig and Charles Clover
THE Government has quietly introduced tough powers to seize and slaughter farm animals against their owners' wishes.
The move comes only three weeks after the House of Lords defeated similar measures in the Animal Health Bill.
It gives Government officers the power to cull any cow, sheep, goat or cat - whether healthy or not - and impose a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment on any owner who obstructs Government inspectors in their work.
Previously, inspectors had to have reason to suspect the presence of a transmissible spongiform disease, such as BSE or scrapie. Now they can use "reasonable force" to enter any premises housing any "TSE susceptible animal" and slaughter all animals.
The powers also give inspectors, and any "other persons as he considers necessary", such as police, Army or slaughtermen, powers to seize computers or records.
The new regulations came to light last night hidden among legislation designed to assess the spread of scrapie in sheep. They were published shortly before Easter by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and came into force on April 19. Under Commons procedures, MPs have until the end of next week to debate the legislation, contained in a statutory instrument, before it automatically becomes law.
MPs can seek a debate to annul the regulations through a motion known as a prayer, but this does not allow for amendments to be tabled and would mean either rejecting or accepting the entire 220-page document. The Lords will be given no opportunity to debate or vote on the legislation. On March 26, peers rejected the Animal Health Bill after questioning the Government's attempts to rush through similar laws covering future outbreaks of animal diseases before two further Government inquiries into the foot and mouth outbreak report this summer.
After peers rejected the Animal Health Bill, Lord Whitty, the farming minister, said there might be "other channels" the Government could use to introduce powers to enter farms and slaughter animals at will. These measures appear to be one such channel.
The legislation will be debated on May 15, but opponents pointed out it is unlikely to be defeated given the Government's large majority. Peter Ainsworth, the shadow rural affairs secretary, said the legislation would "give the Government an inappropriate extension of its powers". He went on: "We are all in favour of measures to eliminate scrapie but very few people are going to be in favour of measures that will allow officials to kill just about any farm animal except the dog."
Barney Holbeche, parliamentary affairs official at the National Farmers' Union, said he could see that "Government officials might need the powers in extreme circumstances" but was concerned that there was a balance to be struck. "Clearly there are individual rights that might be infringed under the measures of stamping disease out."
A Defra spokesman said that the new legislation in the statutory instrument had been "put out for consultation last August, before the Animal Health Bill came into being". He added: "It is a more robust package of BSE and scrapie measures designed to bring us into line with EU regulations."
May 9 2002
Eco soundingsNo drama in a crisis
Last April, at the height of Britain's foot and mouth crisis, Uruguay had a nasty dose of the same strain. As in Britain, the authorities in Uruguay banned animal movements and slaughtered infected beasts and others that were in contact with them. But three days later the disease was found to have spread. At this point, Uruguay departed from British practice and introduced a massive vaccination programme. Some 11m animals were injected twice. Although the disease spread to more than 2,000 farms, just like in Britain, it was totally eradicated in under four months and Uruguay was allowed to start exporting meat again to the EU and other countries shortly after. The epidemic cost the country very little. No supermarkets or trade federations in Uruguay tried to tell government that the public would not accept vaccinated meat, nor was there re-infection from "carrier" animals, or spread of the disease due to sheep with antibodies. Should Defra want advice on how to avoid tears and massive compensation payments, calls for public inquiries, bankruptcies, ill-feeling, loss of earnings and meltdown in communities in future, Eco soundings suggests they call the Uruguayan embassy.
A tributary of the River Dee in north Wales has been devastated by a pollution incident that has wiped out 150,000 young and adult salmon at Maerdy, near Corwen. This is the second blow to Dee salmon stocks in under two years. In July 2000, almost 100,000 fish suffocated after more pollution was emptied downstream near Chester. The environment agency has never managed to prosecute anyone for that incident, but it will be pulling out the stops on the latest one. Why? The fish were in the agency's own hatchery.
May 8 2002 posted May 9
Re: Shaping the way forwardDate: 9 May 2002
SIR - It is disappointing that Simon Lyster (letter, May 7) chose only to highlight the time needed to implement the marine conservation initiatives set out in Safeguarding Our Seas, rather than the initiatives themselves. Inevitably, it takes time to improve marine conservation. At the document's launch, Mr Lyster claimed he welcomed it as a good starting point. I am surprised to see that, six days later, he says something completely different.
His comments on Sir Don Curry's report on the future of farming and food are equal nonsense. At the launch of the report, Sir Don and I both stressed that the major recommendations depended on the outcome of the summer's spending review. However, several new measures were agreed at a recent meeting between the Prime Minister, me and leaders of food, farming, rural and consumer bodies.
We are now engaged in efforts to shape the way forward in partnership with those who can contribute to a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming sector within a thriving rural economy. On the showing of his recent letter, Mr Lyster seems unlikely to be one of them.
Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs London SW1
Re: Broken promises on environmentDate: 7 May 2002
SIR - When this Government first came into power, there were high hopes that the environment would be given much higher priority.
However, there are now depressing indicators that this is becoming a government full of fine words about the environment, but in no hurry to deliver. On two key issues, the Government is showing every sign of prevarication and delay on the action required.
Our marine environment has been seriously degraded by over-fishing, destructive fishing methods, pollution and the lack of any kind of protected area system. A few days ago, the Government produced a report, Safeguarding Our Seas.
It has a great vision - "clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas". It puts forward a model approach, "integrated management", as opposed to the current disjointed system.
Yet when it comes to implementing the grand plan, we are promised more reviews, more conferences, further consultation, and "within one generation we want to have made a real difference." Big deal. What is this going to do for the rare and beautiful sea fan, which is being trashed by scallop fishing methods in the South-West? Can dolphins and porpoises currently dying in unsustainable numbers because of entanglement in fishing nets breathe any easier than they could a week ago?
Second, the current system of subsidising intensive agriculture has had a catastrophic impact on farmland wildlife, destroyed jobs and livelihoods in rural communities and reduced many farmers to the edge of bankruptcy.
The Government set up the Curry Commission to review the future of food and farming. Its report was published to almost universal acclaim as a way of putting life back into the rural economy and reversing losses in farmland wildlife. Does the Government implement it? No, it promises further consultation and shows every sign of backing off because it will cost the Treasury a bit of extra money.
I'm sure it is not easy being in government, but I long for the day when we have ministers brave enough to deliver the vision they promise.
From: Simon Lyster, Director General, The Wildlife Trusts, London SE1
South Korea probes more suspected foot and mouth diseaseSEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is investigating foot-and-mouth disease in two more cows, authorities reported on Wednesday, increasing the prospect that an outbreak that has led to the slaughter of 12,000 animals has spread beyond pigs
May 8 2002
Foot and mouth blamed on farmersBy Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor FARMERS were blamed yesterday for spreading foot-and-mouth disease by their "sheer idleness". Brigadier Alexander Birtwhistle, the Army officer who led the fight against the virus in Cumbria last year, criticised farmers during evidence at the first day's hearing of Cumbria County Council's inquiry into the outbreak.
Mr Birtwhistle, 54, now retired and living in Lancashire, was convinced that if strict quarantine procedures had been put in place immediately, the disease could have been contained in Cumbria. He added: "The disease was quite easy to kill, but we didn't find that out until much later." The county, however, was the worst affected area in Britain with 893 cases. About 3,000 farms had confirmed outbreaks of the virus and more than one million animals were slaughtered.
Veronica Waller, policy adviser for the National Farmers' Union in the North West, said last night that she was "saddened" by the attack on farmers. "This is someone who we worked well with last year, but we would refute his assertions. Farmers put a lot of effort into bio-security, at considerable cost to themselves, and with no help from the Government for disinfectant or pressure hoses when they had little income."
Mr Birtwhistle gave a graphic account of the situation as it was when he was called in last March. He said that delays between diagnosis and slaughter were running at four or five days, there were too few lorries, slaughtermen and guns, and there were an estimated 50,000 dead animals waiting to be disposed of. He added: "I believe it was more than twice that. Some of those bodies had been there for two or three weeks." He said that there was no national policy to dispose of the carcasses. While stating that the Army had a contingency plan for every disaster, including the disease, he did not believe soldiers should have been recalled to Britain to deal with the outbreak, which he called "a management problem".
May 8 2002
Quarantine 'failure' led to farm epidemicBy Charles Clover, Environment Editor
THE foot and mouth epidemic could have been brought under control more quickly if strict quarantine procedures had been imposed at once, the man who led the Army's operation in Cumbria said yesterday. Brig Alex Birtwhistle, who has since retired, told the first day of an inquiry in Kendal that some farmers helped spread the disease through "sheer idleness". His remarks are backed up by the fact that disease was eventually stopped in Cumbria, north Yorkshire and Northumberland only after road checkpoints were set up to seek out potentially infective material on farmers' cars - which also caught some Government slaughtermen. Brig Birtwhistle, 54, said that when he was asked to support the Ministry of Agriculture in Cumbria there was no national contingency plan for disposing of the carcasses from a foot and mouth outbreak on such a scale.
He said: "I immediately noted a long delay between diagnosis and slaughter, which was running at four or five days. I noted an absence of resources: trucks, slaughtermen and guns. Most critically, there was a backlog of animals lying on the ground." One estimate was that 50,000 animals were awaiting disposal. "But I believe it was more than twice that," the brigadier said. "Some of those bodies had been there for two or three weeks."
A policy on disposing of the carcasses was not available, he said. "No risk assessment had been carried out at national or regional level. "All crises, by definition, contain risks. There are political risks, there were public health risks and there were long-term environmental risks. All these risks must be assessed, prioritised and managed. I concluded that these risks had not been satisfactorily assessed."
He said that Tony Blair had asked him if he thought the procedures in place would hold up. "I said no," Brig Birtwhistle told the inquiry panel. "He then instructed me to get on with it." The brigadier said he had 130 officers in the area and was "grossly overstretched". "There were 30 to 40 outbreaks a day and we neither had a disposal site nor a clear policy. It was necessary to instil confidence in the public that we could handle the disease, but, to be frank I was not sure that we could."
Brig Birtwhistle said that somebody had to be in charge from the outset, both at local and at national level. "It should not have required the armed services. The Army is in 30 different countries at any one time. The whole thing is a management problem. "I got most of my information by people poking me in the chest while I was outside my hotel." Many of his decisions and requests for resources, such as lorries to transport carcasses, were done with "personal handshakes".
The Ministry of Agriculture, now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was "outstanding", he said, apart from "two individual exceptions" whom he would not name. The inquiry, led by Prof Phil Thomas, will take evidence for a month. It was set up after the Government refused to hold a full public inquiry.
Ministers will be invited to give evidence, but it is thought that none will take up the offer.
May 8 2002
Pig farmer 'won't be a scapegoat'A PIG farmer widely blamed for bringing devastation to rural Britain was yesterday told that he would not be made a scapegoat for last year's foot-and-mouth crisis. Bobby Waugh faces 16 charges relating to pigs which he kept at a tenant farm in Northumberland. Paddy Cosgrove QC, prosecuting, said there had been much speculation that last year's outbreak started at Burke's Road Farm - part of the larger Burnside Farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall - which he operated with his brother, Ronald.
He said: "There is no charge, either, laid against Mr Waugh, nor available to be made, which can make such an allegation. The issue of where the outbreak started is irrelevant to your deliberation," he told the district judge at South-East Northumberland Magistrates Court.
...........He denies five counts of failing to notify officials of a foot-and-mouth outbreak, four of cruelty to animals, one of taking unprocessed catering waste on to premises where pigs are kept, one of feeding unprocessed waste to pigs, four of failing to dispose of animal by-products, and one of failing to record the movement of pigs.
Cumbria's Foot And Mouth TraumaAn inquiry into last year's foot-and-mouth crisis has been told it was a "deeply traumatic experience" for the people of Cumbria. Professor Phil Thomas, who is chairing the Cumbria Foot and Mouth Disease Inquiry, said the outbreak had an enormous impact on the county. He told the hearing in Kendal: "It's time to take stock and examine it.""We need to consider what happened, how it was dealt with, the lessons that can be learned from the outbreak and its control. Hardest hit "We need to think of the most appropriate policies and strategies for the future." Professor Thomas said the 893 cases of the disease in Cumbria meant the county was the hardest hit in the UK. Almost 300 farms were subjected to the disease and more than one million animals culled. Around one in four of all farms in Cumbria were affected.
May 8 2002
Brigadier raps foot-and-mouth crisis leadershipLONDON (Reuters) - The foot-and-mouth disease crisis revealed a lack of leadership and policy direction at both local and national level, the officer in charge of army assistance at the time has said. Brigadier Alex Birtwhistle told an inquiry on Tuesday in Cumbria, the area worst affected by last year's devastating outbreak, that he had been called in primarily to help the farm ministry set up an operations centre and coordinate a mass culling operation in an effort to control the crisis. "I rapidly formed the impression that certain elements of management and leadership both at national and regional level could be improved." "I noted the long delay between diagnosis and destruction... most crucially there was a backlog of animals lying on the ground, which on the following day I was told was 50,000 but I think in fact the figure was twice that," he added. Birtwhistle said that in particular there was no clear policy for some time on disposal of animals culled to contain the outbreak, which saw millions of animals slaughtered at a cost to the economy of around two billion pounds.
"We were missing disposal sites and a disposal policy particularly for those animals - those cattle over five years old for which there was believed to be ... a residual threat of BSE," he said. "All crises, by definition, contain risks. There are political risks, there were public health risks and there were long-term environmental risks," Birtwhistle told the inquiry in Cumbria -- one of several held by affected regions in the absence of a full-blown, nationwide public probe. The government, has launched three-pronged inquiry process including a policy commission on the future of farming, a scientific review and a study of the lessons to be learned. The reports from all three will be made public. Birtwhistle, who has since retired, said: "I did not discern that a coherent risk-assessment had been carried out at national or regional level." "All these risks must be assessed, prioritised, owned by somebody and managed," he said. "There was a critical shortage of vets. Many slaughtermen were unqualified," Birtwhistle added.
He said he had told Prime Minister Tony Blair that the procedures already in place, by the time military help was enlisted in March last year, would not hold up. He also said that if strict quarantine procedures had been put in place immediately, foot-and-mouth could have been contained swiftly. New cases sprang up across the country for seven months after the first outbreak was confirmed in mid February last year.
May 8 2002
30-month rule up for reviewBy Isabel Davies
Farmers Weekly interactive
FOOD safety watchdogs are to review the over 30-month rule to see whether it can finally be relaxed after keeping older cattle out of the food chain for six years. The Food Standards Agency announced a review of the rule, which bans prime cattle older than 30 months from the food chain on Tuesday (7 May).
The review will consider whether any changes to the rule can be made without increasing the risk to public health from BSE. It will take into account the overall decline in the disease in the UK over recent years and the impact of tightened feed controls. Agency chairman John Krebs said: "As with all the BSE controls, this rule should be maintained for as long as is needed to protect public health. "But it is right to update our assessment and management of risk in light of the latest scientific evidence."
Scientific input to the review will come from a committee made up from food agency members and the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC). This will be chaired by SEAC chairman Professor Peter Smith......
May 8 2002
Subject: Daring daytime direct action at Munlochy GM trial7th May 2002 - for immediate use
The direct action campaign to destroy the GM oil-seed rape field at Munlochy in the Highlands of Scotland took on a new turn late yesterday afternoon with a daytime action in which 3 people were arrested. A man wearing a Tony Blair mask drove a landrover with a long, heavy metal bar attached up and down a long stretch of the 100-acre field, destroying a long stretch of the crop alongside the road.
Almost 100 people had gathered around the field and nearly half of them joined in the action, using sickles, sticks and their bare hands to cut and pull the flowering rape plants. After about three-quarters of an hour the protestors left the field again as police arrived to clear the area. The protest was non-violent, and nobody was injured.
The entire GM part of the field now has huge chunks taken out all over it, amounting to about 50% of the total crop. A total of 24 protestors have been arrested since the field was sown in August last year. Since the current spate of actions started 2 weeks ago, police have been using significant resources to try and protect the field from further damage.
A spokesman for the protestors explained: "A daytime action like this shows the determination of local people to risk arrest in order to get this dangerous crop removed. We realise that our actions are being interpreted as breaking the law as it stands. But we feel that the real crime is being perpetrated by Aventis (the agrochemical company behind the trials) and the Scottish Executive. They are invading our environment and endangering our health by employing a technology which is known to involve high risks. We plead for our politicians to be responsible to the people who elect them. Although both local and national surveys have shown that a clear majority of people are against GM food, Ross Finnie, Jack McConnell and Tony Blair have refused to listen. And this is causing people to lose respect for our democratic institutions, and instead turn to more direct forms of democracy. As responsible members of our community, we feel we have to protect our shared interests against the disrespectful actions of a single farmer and a multinational company, who do not care what happens to our health and environment.
Ross Finnie's reasons for not halting the trial are just pathetic. He claims it is not legal under EU legislation, yet Germany, Wales and now Belgian too have all halted their trials. He relies blindly on the advice of ACRE, who have recently been exposed as incompetent, when they failed to spot the evidence of tests showing that animals fed T-25 maize had a significantly higher mortality rate than those fed on non-GM maize. We cannot rely on scientists whose own careers are based on the further development of the biotechnology industry to be the judges of what is safe."
He continued: "We are sorry for any inconvenience that may have been caused by the traffic jam that temporarily blocked the single-track road alongside the field during the direct action yesterday evening. We point out that there are actually no houses on that part of the road, and that there are several alternative roads by which anyone who normally uses the road would have been able to leave the area in the case of an emergency."
May 8 2002
Army chief tells of virus failuresBy Jeremy Hunt, north-west England correspondent
POOR leadership and a lack of resources meant last year's foot-and-mouth epidemic was allowed to spread, the public inquiry into the crisis in Cumbria has been told. A lack of management, leadership and resources resulted in major failures to control the disease during the first three weeks of the outbreak, the inquiry heard. Brigadier Alex Birtwistle, the soldier who led the army's fight against the epidemic in Cumbria, was giving evidence to the county's public inquiry into the crisis. A routine visit to Carlisle on 21 March, 2001 had alerted him to "key elements" of crisis management that were missing in Ministry of Agriculture procedures, he said.
"It was taking four to five days between identifying infected animals and having them, slaughtered," he told the inquiry on Tuesday (7 May). Brigadier Birtwistle said there was an acute shortage of guns and trucks and a backlog of dead animals awaiting disposal. "I was told it was 50,000 head of stock, but it was more like twice that," he said. "Some had been lying there for three weeks after slaughter." Brigadier Birtwistle said there was no disposal site and no policy for disposing of slaughtered animals, especially older cattle which could present a risk through BSE.
No risk assessment had been carried out at national or regional level, he told the nine-strong inquiry team. "All crises contain risks and here we were facing risks to public health and the environment. The problems of foot-and-mouth needed to be prioritised, owned, and dealt with. "Two-thirds of these risks were not being addressed, simply because of a shortage of resources. We had to prioritise diagnosis, destruction, disposal and disinfection." The inquiry continues at Cumbria County Council's offices in Kendal until Friday (10 May). It will then resume later this month in Carlisle.
May 8 2002
Britain 2002: Two legs good, four legs equal?by Penny Wark
It is 180 years since the first animal welfare law. Now we are promised a Bill of Rights for pets. Our correspondent traces the history of our changing attitudes
You might think that those who campaign on behalf of animals would welcome the Government's attempts to enhance their protection with a Bill of Rights for animals. This is not quite true, however. While campaigners approve of the principle, they are also inclined to be cynical: this is just politics at work, they say. They have seen it all before.
Those who have studied the 200 years in which numerous human beings have chivvied and philosophised and even planted bombs to improve the lot of animals are aware that legislation does not always lead to improvement. It is widely believed that the Government has banned the testing of cosmetics on animals, for example; in fact, it has merely pledged not to renew licences for this procedure. Similarly, there is still no law to prevent live calves from being exported.
So campaigners suspect that the legislation being promoted by the Environment Minister Elliot Morley - to guarantee pets a minimum quality of life - will again protect the status quo of the economy by failing to outlaw factory-farming procedures and vivisection.
May 7 2002
Bitter legacy left in CumbriaCarol McLaren
THE mishandling of the foot-and-mouth crisis has left a "legacy of bitterness" in the Cumbrian farming communities, according to Cumbria NFU which this week submitted its written evidence to the Cumbria County Council foot-and-mouth inquiry.
NFU Cumbria Policy Advisor Veronica Waller said mismanagement by government coupled with the scale of devastation was the main factor behind the anguish. "Cumbria experienced 44 per cent of cases of the worst foot-and-mouth outbreak in living memory. For over 2,000 farmers who had their livestock culled their experience has been compared to a family bereavement. "Added to this emotional bereavement has been the damaging economic impact on farmers who kept their livestock throughout the outbreak and had to cope with movement restrictions for longer than anywhere else in the country," she said.
Nick Utting of North Cumbria NFU said much of the anger was directed towards senior Maff/Defra officials, both local and national, because farmers felt the outbreak could have been controlled much more quickly. Utting said that after suffering so badly in last year's outbreak, people are now highly concerned at the apparent government apathy towards taking steps to prevent the disease flaring up again.
"There is no enthusiasm whatsoever by government or any indication that steps are being taken to prevent the import of infected products which could cause it to happen again. It's very worrying," he said.
Cumbria NFU's written evidence centres around the key recommendation that decisions need to be taken locally by Ministry officials and vets. It also states that the process of contingency planning for operations throughout an emergency should involve local people. The submission highlights the cases of two Cumbrian farmers. Tebay farmer Steve Dunning was not struck by the disease, but had 42 veterinary visits by Defra each lasting five to six hours. He estimates his additional costs from not being able to move animals resulted in a loss of income of more than £26,000.
Dalston farmer Mark Shadwick reported the disease to Maff (now Defra) on Sunday 11 March but had to wait until Friday 16 March for his animals to be slaughtered. The animal carcasses lay until Wednesday 21 March before being burnt on a pyre which burned for 10 days then smouldered for a further three weeks. Cumbria NFU maintains Shadwick's experience of diagnosis, culling and delays in disposal were by no means exceptional.....
May 7 2002
Councillors wait to be sacked in rules revoltBy Nicole Martin (Filed: 07/05/2002)
PARISH councillors in a Cotswolds village have joined the revolt against the Government's new code of conduct, saying they would prefer to be sacked than submit to "over-the-top and intrusive" rules. Peter Riley, chairman of Broadway parish council, Worcs, said 11 of its 13 members were prepared to lose their unpaid positions in protest against a new measure requiring them to declare investments above £25,000 in a business which has dealings in the parish; be prepared to inform on colleagues; and declare hospitality over £25. Mr Riley, who has worked for the council for seven years, said the code was "the final straw" for councillors reluctant to the "unnecessary intrusion" into their privacy. He added: "If I was a district councillor I would be earning up to £80 a week and would expect to sign up to some type of code.
"We work for absolutely nothing for the good of the community. Individually we have no powers and should not be subjected to the same regimes as the county councillors, who have considerable powers."
Last week Fittleton parish council, Wilts, resigned en masse over the code and individual councillors in other areas across Britain have stepped down in protest.
May 7 2002
Treating animals as moral beings is cruelby Roger Scruton The Government's proposal of a Bill of Rights for animals has been much ridiculed. But it is the logical next step in a series of legislative measures, including the ban on fur farming and the proposed ban on hunting, which show the influence of the movement for animal rights on new Labour's thinking. And not on the thinking only: new Labour's election budget in 1997 was influenced to the tune of £1 million by the Political Animal Lobby (Pal). The animal rights movement has taken over the RSPCA and turned it from an old-fashioned charitable cause to a newfangled centre of activist politics. The society is now advocating an absolute ban on circuses, and will no doubt follow the League Against Cruel Sports in campaigning for a ban on shooting, should the ban on hunting go ahead.
Of course, the English have always been soppy about pets. But sentimentality towards pets has a social function: it keeps us from molesting our fellow human beings in ways that the English, on the whole, find repulsive.
The emphasis of the animal rights movement is not on these soft-hearted and discriminatory emotions towards favoured animals; it is on a fair deal for all, and a downgrading of human beings from sovereigns to subjects in the animal kingdom. After all, we are animals ourselves. Why discriminate in our own favour, when other species are just as capable of pleasure and pain as we are? When it comes to deciding whether animals should be included in the moral equation, argued the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the question is not "can they talk?" or "can they reason?" but "can they suffer?" But it is one thing to show concern for animal suffering and another thing to translate this concern into a list of "animal rights". Bentham - for whom even human rights, detached from some specific legal context, were no better than "nonsense on stilts" - would have scoffed at such a heresy. By according rights to animals, we put them on the same moral plane as ourselves, equal contenders in the struggle for survival, and protected, as we are, by absolute prohibitions against abuse. The question is not merely can we afford to do this, but does it make sense? We make free choices based on the conscious evaluation of alternatives. We assess and criticise one another's actions. We exert over our lives a sovereignty that we require others to respect, and which we must respect in turn. We are accountable for our actions, and try to resolve conflicts by agreement rather than by force. In short, we are moral beings. That is why the concept of a right is useful to us. A right is a veto in the hands of the one who possesses it, and we assign rights in order to protect the sovereignty of the individual. Until this protection is offered, the individual cannot be sure that negotiation is the wisest social strategy.
Dogs, cats and horses are not moral beings, and to treat them as though they were is not just senseless, it is also cruel. It means making demands on them that they cannot possibly understand. Cats would have to respect the right to life and dogs the right to privacy. And both would have to be called to account for their actions and punished for their faults.
Defenders of animal rights point to infants and imbeciles as proof that there can be rights without duties. But the example proves the opposite. Infants and imbeciles have an imperfect understanding of duty, hence they are accorded only very basic rights or even (in the case of some unborn infants) no rights at all. And we ascribe rights to infants and imbeciles because they belong to the same kind as you and me: the kind that, in normal conditions, grows into a fully fledged member of the moral community.
Dogs and cats cannot form part of such a community: they are not the kind of thing that can settle disputes by dialogue, that can exert sovereignty over their lives and respect the sovereignty of others, that can respond to the call of duty or take responsibility in a matter of trust. They are entirely non-judgmental, which is why they make such agreeable pets.
According rights to animals is not just intellectually untenable, but imposes an enormous cost on society, and one that we can ill afford. By assigning rights to people, the law helps us to resolve our conflicts in peaceful ways. But by assigning rights to animals, who have no understanding of the deal, the law will merely augment the scope and the scale of human conflict, by removing vital decisions from the people best qualified to make them.
A Bill of Rights for farm animals would probably outlaw every kind of livestock husbandry that is currently viable. The result would not be a gain for animals: it would be a gain for our foreign competitors, who treat their animals in whatever way is required to make a profit.
Likewise, a Bill of Rights will make animal experimentation all but impossible- so ensuring that vital medical and veterinary research is no longer conducted in this country. Once more, this will not be a gain but a loss for the animals. It will also be a loss for our economy, and for our standing as a scientific community. I do not agree with Bentham about human rights; but surely the correct description of animal rights is "nonsense on stilts".
Roger Scruton is a philosopher and the author of Animal Rights and Wrongs. He is also a paid consultant to the Countryside Alliance.
May 7 2002
Sheep and goats are banned at Royal ShowBy Charles Clover, Environment Editor
(Filed: 06/05/2002) FARMERS protested yesterday at a decision to ban sheep and goats from this year's Royal Show.
The Royal Agricultural Society for England has imposed a ban despite Britain being accepted as clear of foot and mouth by the European Union and the Office International des Epizooties, the world organisation for animal health. The decision comes as the Government is expected to announce this week that livestock shows can resume and markets can sell animals to other farms for the first time since the epidemic.
The society said the decision to ban sheep, goats and alpacas was taken "with regret" because there were many symptoms in sheep which were hard to differentiate from foot and mouth and the discovery of any of them could lead to the show being cancelled.
David Storrar, of the society, said: "We have worked hard to give sheep producers a show venue for 2002. But after discussions with the Department for Food and Rural Affairs and our vets, and in the light of published guidance, we decided the risks are too high.
"Should the worst happen and one of our vets finds symptoms giving any doubt in a sheep, goat or alpaca, the necessary four-day freeze on movements would be catastrophic for all other livestock and the show itself." It is believed that the society has been told there is a problem in sheep this year with orf, which leads to similar lesions in the mouth to foot and mouth.
May 6 2002
Foot and mouth diarist forced to give up dairy herdBy Richard Savill (Filed: 06/05/2002)
THE farmer's wife who wrote a weekly diary for The Telegraph about how her family's life changed during last year's foot and mouth crisis has become the latest victim of falling milk prices. /Sally Leaney with one of her calves, last yearSally Leaney and her husband Duncan weathered the epidemic on their West Country farm, but last week they were forced to sell their 90-cow dairy herd as plunging prices for milk means that they can no longer afford to keep it.
"It seems tragic that after surviving BSE and foot and mouth, the economics of the job have forced us to do this," Mrs Leaney said yesterday. "But we are not alone. People are queuing up to sell. "Ten years ago a family-run dairy farm was a very successful little unit. Sadly, such farms cannot financially survive with the milk price as it is. We hoped the price would improve but it hasn't. In the end we were effectively paying to milk the cows."
Mrs Leaney's accounts of life on her farm at Corfe, near Taunton, Somerset, proved so popular that a book of her diaries and the responses she got from readers was published. In her book, she said that a "black cloud" had crept over farming. Being a farmer was once a dream that many people strove to achieve, as she did 30 years ago.
"In many ways it is an idyllic life," she wrote. "The freedom to roam, the joy of welcoming new life on to the farm, the satisfaction of harvesting a crop, the wonderful lifestyle for children - full of ponies and picnics - and the pride of running a business together."
Mrs Leaney, the mother of Alice, 13, and Sam, 10, told her readers last autumn that she would fight to keep her dream alive. "I love the farm and the cows too much to give them up without a fight." Last week, however, she had to abandon the fight and part with her cows. "It was the most traumatic and emotional thing I have ever done . . . the cows were our life," she said. Mrs Leaney wept as she recalled the animals' departure. "The lorries came at 4.30am to start taking the cows away . . . it was horrible," she said. "Cows are lovely creatures. They are incredibly gentle and loyal. I could not go to the sale......
May 6 2002
Parish councils at risk as scores reject new codeBy Simon de Bruxelles
PARISH councils across Britain are likely to disappear as the result of strict new rules requiring their unpaid members to declare private financial details. The rules come into effect this week. Councillors had until yesterday to agree to a new code of conduct which requires them to declare everything from employment details to shareholdings and any gifts and hospitality dispensed or received over a value of £25.
Scores of councillors who give their time for free and deal with nothing more controversial than maintenance of children's play areas or cutting of grass verges have quit, claiming the new register is instrusive and unjustified.
Tim Hoddinott, chairman of Fittleton parish council on Salisbury Plain, who stood down last week, said: "We had seven councillors but four of the longest-standing quit at Christmas when the details of the new code were explained to them. Basically they were told 'sign up or else'. They felt they'd done their bit for the community and this was their reward.
"For the rest of us it was the last straw. We tried to struggle on but was no way we could do all the work that was expected of us, which included drawing up a 'strategic plan' for the village. "
Although three local worthies including the district councillor will now be co-opted to run the parish council, Mr Hoddinott believes Fittleton will inevitably be swallowed by the larger neighbouring parish of Netheravon and another tier of local democracy will have vanished forever.
A similar story is being repeated across the country.
Few parish councillors are in it for the glory of a job where responsibilities include planting flowers in public areas and looking after play areas. Many have budgets as small as £1,000 a year. But the councils play an important role representing residents' views on issues such as planning applications......
May 6 2002
Scottish GM crops stance challengedBRIAN BRADY
Scotland on Sunday
THE Scottish Executive's case against banning Genetically Modified crop trials was "in tatters" last night, according to green campaigners, after Belgium blocked a trial amid fears it could damage surrounding plant life.
Friends of the Earth Scotland said the case showed that rural development minister Ross Finnie had the power to ban similar experiments in Scotland, a power he claims he does not hold. FoE revealed that Belgium's new environment minister Magda Aelvoet had invoked the "precautionary principle" to block five field trials of GM oilseed rape.
She ruled that it was "impossible" to stop them leaking genetically modified material into the environment, despite strict measures designed to protect surrounding wildlife.
Aelvoet warned GM developers that she will introduce a change in her government's policy on the issue, with future trials subject to much tougher rules. FoE Scotland is now calling on Finnie to follow suit.
Kevin Dunion, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "The new minister has said the precautionary principle can be used to rule that any GM crop which will flower can be stopped. In Scotland that means oilseed rape at least.
Foot And Mouth InquiryA public inquiry is to begin into the foot and mouth crisis in the county worst affected by last year's devastating outbreak.
One of the first to give evidence will be Brigadier Alex Birtwhistle - the soldier brought in to clear the backlog of dead animals and carry out a preventative cull. Brigadier Birtwhistle is one of the key witnesses in the inquiry, which will begin on Tuesday in Cumbria.
The inquiry panel, chaired by Professor Phil Thomas, has also sent written questions to Government officials. If the panel is not satisfied with the answers, ministers could be called to give evidence in person. Cumbria had 44% of all foot and mouth cases, more than anywhere else in the UK. A total of 893 farms had the disease and over one million animals were slaughtered on more than 2,000 premises.
The effect of shutting down the countryside in Cumbria had a crippling impact on other industries, such as tourism.
The inquiry will look at how the outbreak was managed in the county and what lessons can be learned. Its findings, which are expected by the end of July, will form part of a separate European Union probe. Rex Toft, leader of Cumbria County Council, predicts the inquiry's conclusions will have wide-reaching implications.
"I firmly believe the inquiry is of national and European significance," he said. Professor Thomas is former principle and chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural College and is professor of agriculture at Glasgow University. He will head a 10-strong panel drawn from areas such as agriculture, tourism, the environment, health, and rural businesses.
May 5 2002
Defra deaf to rural Britain, says reportBy Geoffrey Lean Environment Editor
Ministers have comprehensively broken promises not to ignore the countryside when drawing up policies, the Government's own official watchdog has reported.
The report shows that Margaret Beckett's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - which was specifically set up just under a year ago to look after the countryside - has one of the worst records in Whitehall. The stinging criticisms in the report - by Ewen Cameron, who was officially appointed as the Government's "Rural Advocate" last year - will add fuel to the anger that has been blazing in rural Britain.
Hailed by Peter Ainsworth, the shadow environment secretary, as "a rare and welcome example of independence within the machinery of government", it will be cited as proof ministers have failed to honour their undertakings in their Rural White Paper to provide "joined-up government ... in rural areas".
The White Paper was ministers' response to the growing crisis in the countryside caused by failing agriculture, the lack of jobs and affordable housing, and the closure of vital facilities. It admitted that the impact of government policies on the countryside and its people had "not always been considered" and promised to set up a system of "rural-proofing" to ensure that this was done in future. But the new report by Mr Cameron, who is chairman of the official Countryside Agency, said that he has "seen little sign of a shift in departmental policies" and "no measurable difference across rural England".
It added: "Less than half the departments have built rural proofing into any existing policy making and appraisal systems, or promoted it internally." Meanwhile, important parts of Government still "largely overlook rural needs".
Mr Cameron was promised "direct access to the Prime Minister and his ministers" in the White Paper to enable him to provide "a voice at the heart of government for rural concerns". But, in practice, he reports, "some ministers' diaries seem to have been slow or difficult to crack". The report shows that Mrs Beckett's Defra comes equal bottom with the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry in "implementing rural proofing".
Mr Ainsworth said yesterday that the report showed that the Government had "still not got the message" about the crisis in the countryside. "The fact that Defra itself has made such lamentable progress towards meeting the commitments of the White Paper is depressing, but tells its own story," he said. "If the lead department fails to provide a lead, why should other departments bother?"
May 5 2002
Valley tipped to be biggest reservoirJonathan Leake, Environment Editor
A BEAUTIFUL valley full of rare wildlife could be turned into Europe's largest man-made reservoir as part of Britain's attempts to combat global climate change. The whole of Craig Goch, in central Wales, has long been designated a nature reserve because it is home to some of Britain's rarest wildlife, including red kites and golden plovers. However, the water companies behind the plan to turn the site into a giant reservoir say that the valley offers southern Britain its best hope of staving off future droughts.
Later this year they will announce plans to build a 320ft-high dam and flood the valley with 55 billion gallons of water - at a cost of £500m. The lake is expected to be bigger than Windermere and cover an area similar to that of Birmingham.
The proposed reservoir would protect southern England and Wales against water shortages and hosepipe bans as climate change causes British summers to become increasingly hot and dry. It would also become the centrepiece of a new national water grid which would see huge underground pipelines linking rivers across southern England - costing a further £500m. Once the grid was complete, water collected in Wales could flow from taps as far away as London or Suffolk. Brian Duckworth, managing director of Severn Trent Water, has overseen the plans on behalf of Water UK, the industry body. He said: "It takes 30 years to design and build a project like this - exactly the time by which we are expecting major water shortages. We are going to put this plan to ministers and want them to give it serious consideration."
The scheme will cause consternation in Wales, where there has long been resentment at the way water companies extract water for consumption in English cities. However, the toughest opposition is likely come from conservationists. The valley already contains a small reservoir, which was built a century ago to supply water to the West Midlands. The land around it has since been declared a special protection area under the EC's directive on wild birds and also falls within the Cambrian Mountains environmentally sensitive area. About 80% of it has been given additional protection after being incorporated into 12 separate sites of special scientific interest (SSSI). These range from ancient pastures and meadows to woodland and rare upland mires.
A spokesman for the Elan Valley Trust, which leases the land from Welsh Water and manages its wildlife, said the 70 square miles of moorland, bog, woodland, river and reservoir at risk of inundation were of national importance. "The estate is the most important area for land birds in Wales," he said. The area's few human inhabitants - mostly farmers whose families have been there for generations - would find it hard to fight such a plan.
Charles Pugh, 32, who keeps 1,500 sheep on Bodtalog farm in the valley, said he would be ruined - even though most of his 1,400 acres would be just above the new water level.
He said: "I'm the ninth generation of Pughs to be living on this farm but this would be the end. We'd lose our only decent fields, so we wouldn't be able to make hay any more."
Robert Hughes, who has farmed nearby Aberglanhirin farm since the 1950s, said his future looked even more bleak. "If this goes ahead my house would be more than 100ft under water," he said.
Last week Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, confirmed that she would look favourably on such schemes, provided the water companies could prove there was a real need.
Her words will be welcomed by Thames Water, which wants permission to build another large reservoir near Abingdon in Oxfordshire. The project would help secure London's water and simultaneously create one of southern England's biggest centres for angling and other watersports such as sailing and water skiing.
Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said: "We need a different attitude to water. We can't keep relying on huge engineering works that damage the environment. (sic) The government has said we must become a sustainable society - and that means conserving water, not treating it as an unlimited resource."
May 5 2002
Christopher Booker's Notebook Failure of Brussels strategy made farm crisis a disasterDOCUMENTS that have come to light only thanks to the European Parliament's inquiry into last year's multi-billion-pound foot and mouth disaster reveal that it represented a far more extensive failure of Government than has hitherto been supposed.
A report to be presented to the inquiry tomorrow by a British MEP shows that, had it not been for the total breakdown of a strategy for the handling of foot and mouth outbreaks by the European Commission, more than nine million animals might have been spared from slaughter and the British economy could have been saved more than £10 billion.
The 2001 outbreak might have been a minor incident, over in weeks, instead of one of the greatest catastrophes ever inflicted on Britain's countryside.
One of the best-kept secrets of last year's disaster was the extent to which, under European Community directive 85/511, overall direction of the handling of foot and mouth had been handed over to Brussels.
Under a second directive, 90/423, Britain should have had a detailed contingency plan in place, requiring a full-scale emergency vaccination programme within days of the start of the epidemic.
However, the report to be handed to the European Parliament's inquiry on behalf of the Europe of Democracies and Diversities group by Jeffrey Titford MEP, leader of the UK Independence Party, shows how the system broke down at every point, with liability for its failure split equally between the Commission and the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The first failure highlighted by his report was that, when the Commission in 1990 ordered every member state to draw up a contingency plan for dealing with a foot-and-mouth outbreak, its guidelines did not allow for an epidemic remotely on the scale of that which hit Britain in February 2001.
They did, however, require governments to submit detailed evidence that they knew exactly what to do in the event of an outbreak and had sufficient resources in place to implement those plans.
The second failure was that Maff's response, as can now be seen from the plan it submitted, did not meet the guidelines and was woefully inadequate.
The third failure was that, although the Commission formally approved all the member states' contingency plans in 1993, it did so without examining them. The Commission did not begin checking the adequacy of the plans, as the directive required, until 1999. Even then it was not due to review the UK plan until 2001, by when it was too late.
Another requirement of the 1990 directive was that, if an outbreak was anything but small-scale, capable of being overcome by the instant slaughter of infected animals, governments must be equipped to use emergency vaccination.
In 1999 the Commission's scientific veterinary committee issued a confidential report warning that the risk of foot and mouth in the EU was "extraordinarily high". Advising member states that additional measures should be taken "to prevent a local outbreak becoming a disaster", it laid down 10 criteria to determine whether or not vaccination should be used. Governments had to be fully equipped to vaccinate as soon as any of these criteria were met.
When foot and mouth was identified in Britain in February 2001, it rapidly became clear that Maff had been caught short in every respect. Within a week at least seven of the 10 criteria requiring vaccination had been met.
But because Maff had not complied with Commission guidance, it was forced to rely on the mass-slaughter policy which the Commission had already advised was inadequate even in an epidemic much smaller than Britain's.
Confidential Commission documents called for by Mr Titford's staff and detailing just how totally this strategy failed are easily the most significant evidence yet presented to the Parliament's inquiry.
They blow wide open the Commission's recent claim that it has found "no major flaws" in the strategy, although one British minister, Lord Whitty, has admitted that the 2001 epidemic was on a scale "not really covered by the contingency plan".
It will be fascinating to see if the inquiry pursues this evidence that the EU system failed, or whether most MEPs simply close ranks in endorsing the cover-up.
Village pub falls foul of hygiene police
THE villagers of Trent, near Sherborne, Dorset, are proud of their picturesque pub, the Rose and Crown, commended by Egon Ronay and Les Routiers.
And they are so angry at a recent court case that ended in its landlord's wife, Nancy Marian-Crawford, being found guilty of nine criminal hygiene offences that they are clubbing together to pay her £5,000 fine and £5,000 costs.
Brought by West Dorset council and its chief environmental health officer, William John, this was a case which, according to one of Britain's leading hygiene experts, should never have been brought to court.
The fraught saga of relations between West Dorset and the Rose and Crown goes back to 1993, when Mrs Marian-Crawford's husband, Charles, was charged with 33 hygiene offences that had been discovered during a snap inspection. These included having an "unlidded waste bin"- which was open because it was in use - and an insect trap that contained "dead flies".
After publicity in The Telegraph, Mr Marian-Crawford arrived at court supported by a crowd of villagers, whereupon they heard that Mr John had "gone on holiday", taking the case papers with him. The judge gave Mr Marian-Crawford an absolute discharge, and told the council that it was never to prosecute him again. For seven years after this humiliating episode, West Dorset treated the pub warily. Mr and Mrs Marian-Crawford did everything hygiene officials asked of them. But in July 2001, Mr John's officials staged another snap inspection, just after the pub had served 1,000 meals.
There followed another 19 criminal charges, including finding grease on a fan and a tin of dog food in a fridge. In light of the judge's previous ruling, the charges were this time directed not at Mr Marian-Crawford himself but at his American-born wife, Nancy.
Dr Richard North, who wrote the standard manual on hygiene inspection for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Officers, advised that the council was in serious breach of the statutory code of practice determining procedures justifying prosecution.
"The council's action," he said, "was a completely over-the-top response to minor hygiene problems which should have been amicably resolved by offering advice."
Having spent thousands of pounds in trying to get a judicial review of the council's failure to follow its code of practice, Mrs Marian-Crawford was finally allowed legal aid for the hearing of the criminal charges. Meanwhile, faced by the prospect of a robust defence, the council offered to drop the charges if Mrs Marian-Crawford would agree to sell the pub and not open another one in Dorset.
On the day of the trial, the hearing had to start before Mrs Marian-Crawford's expert witness, Dr North, could attend the court, as he had been delayed on his 340-mile journey. Her new legal team advised her to settle and she compromised by pleading guilty to a handful of offences. Judge Longbotham read her a stern lecture on the importance of complying with hygiene law and fined her £5,000, trumpeted by West Dorset in the local press as a great victory.
However, Mrs Marian-Crawford's neighbours were so outraged that Michael Pearce, a village churchwarden and businessman, has set up a fund to pay her fine and costs.
Should any readers wish to join me in contributing, cheques are payable to "Trent Villagers" at Clover Leys, Trent, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 4SW.
Metro funding is first class folly
WHEN Neil Kinnock, the vice-president of the European Commission, recently paid a visit to Tyne and Wear to inspect the "18.5 kilometre" extension of the local Metro to Sunderland, the train was painted with the EU's ring of stars and there was lavish local publicity for his boast that this scheme could not have been completed without the EU's contribution of £14.75 million.
"I am very proud about the fact that the European Union was heavily involved." said Mr Kinnock. "The European Commission is strongly committed to increasing the provision of affordable public transport."
It took that prominent Sunderland citizen Neil Herron, leader of the Metric Martyrs defence fund, to point out that the EU's contribution was only a small part of the £98 million that the scheme had cost, and that even to get back that £14.75 million from the EU, British taxpayers had to hand over £29.5 million to Brussels in the first place.
May 5 2002
RWF Poole has a meeting with Alun Michael of DefraTHERE were about 200 people crammed into the back bar of the Twice Brewed Inn, hard by the Roman Wall. There were at least another 100 outside waiting in the early morning chill. We were all there to meet Alun Michael of Defra about the Government's stance on hunting.
Mr Michael was visiting the Roman Wall to discuss boosting tourism in the north-east. We wanted to widen the discussion a bit. Defra was reluctant to grant the audience, but the alternative was to have all of us joining Mr Michael on his jaunt - the Government had promised consultation on the hunting issue and the locals were determined to consult.
As a compromise, Mr Michael agreed to a 25-minute indoor meeting, if he was left unchallenged on his walk in front of the cameras. So we waited, tucking in to the bacon butties supplied by the pub. The room was full of weathered faces and soon developed its own atmosphere compounded of old Barbour, collie dog and silage.
"He comes! He comes!" ran the murmur and in he came, leading a phalanx of pale-faced box wallahs, wearing what they no doubt considered to be country clothing (how they were going to shiver up on the bleak Wall) and wary Special Branch men.
The Great Man is in fact a rather small man with quick eyes and sandy hair. The Welsh come in two colours - red and black. My friend, a descendant of the Great Glyndwr, says that you should never trust a red Welshman. Mr Michael sported a blood-red fleece.
A lady put the first question. I cannot remember it but Mr Michael spoke eloquently for five minutes. She thanked him politely, then asked if he would answer the question. But he was not for answering questions. He had prepared his blether for the occasion and if we didn't like it, we could lump it. He was there to seek "common ground" (he used that phrase often); hunting stirred passions on both sides; it was up to MPs to make up their own minds; the Labour manifesto had committed the party to a free vote.
What about the Burns Inquiry, said a voice. It was a "starting point for consultation". In other words, said the voice, a complete waste of time and money. Anyway, hunting was a minor issue (the room growled); he was here to talk about bringing jobs back to the north-east.
No, said the room, you're trying to destroy jobs. A hunt servant pointed out that he stood to lose his job and his house. He should address the matter to his MP, came the answer; MPs were completely independent on this matter.
But had not Michael Foot said that banning hunting was a matter of political principle? Mr Michael did not seem to want to hear about Mr Foot, nor did he seem greatly concerned about the rights and principles of minorities. He did a neat sideways shuffle. It was a matter for the British People.
The room wondered why the Government was dumping on hunting and not shooting and fishing? Well, you see, it was all a question of balancing "cruelty and utility", which means that they think that they can get away with hunting, but the timing was not right for the others. Our timing was also up. Mr Michael was marched away by his grim-faced minders. I could not but admire the nimble footwork of his performance, but not everybody was impressed.
"Man, what a load of slather and shite," said the old farmer next to me. Spot on. A friendly Conservative MP said that in the end it would come down to whom Tony Blair was more frightened of - his own backbenchers, or the Countryside. We will just have to show him, won't we?
May 5 2002
Pubs in foot-and-mouth claimRural pubs that suffered because of foot-and-mouth are among businesses that have started legal action against the government for £7bn damages. The action - thought to be the biggest damages claim ever - began last week when the UK Rural Business Campaign's (UKRBC) solicitors delivered a letter to the government outlining its concerns. The group claims the government was negligent in its handling of the crisis - which meant businesses such as rural pubs suffered. The UKRBC is demanding compensation as well as a public inquiry into the outbreak and the establishment of safeguards to prevent a repeat. ......
"The businesses include tales of great hardship suffered as a result of the epidemic of foot-and-mouth," the letter said. "Although the disease has now been eradicated, its scars remain - no longer on the animals but on the lives and livelihoods of thousands." According to the UKRBC, the legal action could involve up to one million separate cases. Kerry Rogan of The Publican said: "Hundreds of people are getting involved in this campaign. "It started with people realising that if the farmers had received compensation, then publicans had an equal claim. "After all, their businesses were equally adversely affected."
Landlady Val Sinclair of the 500-year-old Old Pigeon Inn on the A5 near Shrewsbury estimates her business lost in excess of £70,000. "It was absolutely dreadful for us. "The countryside was closed from the end of February 2001 and we lost all that trade from the bank-holidays. "You couldn't walk in the countryside and the tourist trade dried up. I even heard of one publican in Oxfordshire whose council told him you couldn't even sit on the grass. "I don't see why I should lose thousands of pounds because the government mishandles this disease."
Solicitor Wynne Edwards of Class Law, who is handling the case on behalf of UKRBC, said: "We had a letter from the government recently asking for more time. "If they reject the claim we will then proceed with an application for a group litigation order. "We think it is a valid claim. The amounts lost vary from £5,000 right up to £3m."
May 3 2002 posted May 4
Re: No Bill of Rights is plannedDate: 4 May 2002 SIR - The Government has no proposals to introduce a Bill of Rights for Animals. We are proposing to streamline 11 animal cruelty Acts into one and update the 1911 Animal Protection Act. I'm pleased The Daily Telegraph has joined the consensus in welcoming that.
These proposals were announced three months ago and consultation is just closing. We have received many representations as to what should be in the Bill and we will consider them before further consultation.
From: Elliot Morley, Animal Welfare Minister, London SW1
May 4 2002
Scottish children find food facts hard to swallowPolly Curtis (2 May)
More than half (52%) of Scottish schoolchildren from inner city areas think oranges grow in Scotland and 70% think cotton comes from sheep, according to a survey published today. However, 95% do know that potatoes do not grow on trees.
The survey, Food We Eat, was conducted in January 2001 by the Royal Highland Education Trust. Schoolchildren from areas of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow were quizzed to find out what they knew about the sources of their food. The research was based on 126 pupils aged nine and 10.
The results of the survey were announced to coincide with the launch of a £10,000 two-year schools project -Taking the Countryside into the Classroom - to help Scottish inner-city children learn more about food production.
The RHET wants to encourage children from more than 50 primary schools in the four cities to gain first-hand knowledge about the farming process. .......
May 4 2002
Adviser on vCJD admits disease risk is negligibleBy David Charter and Nigel Hawkes
THE Government's chief adviser on vCJD has admitted that he would be happy to have his tonsils out with the traditional surgical equipment. Peter Smith told The Times he was satisfied that the risk of catching vCJD from the instruments was negligible compared with the benefits of the surgery.
Professor Smith's admission raises the question as to why ministers banned traditional equipment in the first place and spent £25 million on cheap disposable instruments that have been linked to two deaths and scores of injuries. It also suggests that there is no need for the continued use of the equipment in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Professor Smith, chairman of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (Seac), said yesterday: "It is a theoretical risk (of catching vCJD) and there has been no transmission by this route so far, so my guess is that (were it medically necessary) I would go ahead and have it done." On January 4 last year the Department of Health ordered a ban on multiple-use surgical equipment for tonsil removal after Seac identified the theoretical risk it could spread the human form of mad cow disease. The decision threw hospitals into chaos as waiting lists for tonsillectomies grew while manufacturers struggled to meet a government order for 60,000 disposable kits.
Pat Troop, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said at the time: "We still do not know how many people might be incubating variant CJD. There is a theoretical risk that it could be passed on through surgical operations from those who have yet to show symptoms of the disease.
"We are following Seac's advice in deciding to address tonsillectomy operations at this stage, because this is a specific procedure usually applied to children, and which involves a discrete set of instruments. This will allow us to learn valuable lessons should we decide ultimately to extend the use of single-use instruments to other procedures." Ministers also pledged £200 million to improve hospital sterilisation facilities. After a series of operating table dramas, the Department of Health ordered surgeons in England to stop using disposable equipment on December 14. It claimed that Seac "had endorsed using tonsillectomy as a pilot scheme to see how single-use instruments would work in practice".
Officials admitted that single-use instruments "represent an actual risk to patients, compared with a theoretical risk of transmission of vCJD". They added: "Given this balance of risks, the Department of Health has decided that surgeons can return to using re-usable surgical equipment which should be sterilised in the normal way." .....
May 4 2002
UK village takes on government over gene crop testUK: May 3, 2002 LONDON - The people of a village in southeast England flexed their muscles against the British government this week with a vote rejecting plans for a trial of genetically modified maize in their backyard. As thousands filed into London for May Day protests over wider political concerns, a poll held by Weeley parish council in the county of Essex resulted in 95 percent of votes being cast against the test site planned by the government. The proposed test is part of the final year of government trials aimed at measuring the environmental impact of planting genetically modified (GM) crops. Anti-GM campaigners in the village, backed by environmental group Friends of the Earth, said they would write to Britain's environment minister Michael Meacher to demand that the site, announced by him in March, be withdrawn.
Public opinion in Europe, bruised by food safety scares over mad cow disease and the chemical dioxin in recent years, is wary about GM foods and there is a three year de-facto ban in place in Europe on approvals of new gene spliced varieties.
Britain has been under steady pressure from environmental groups, particularly over the distances between gene crops and other varieties, due to fears of cross-contamination. The government's independent biotechnology advisers, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, has called for a public debate on the possible commercialisation of gene-spliced crops. The chairman of the watchdog, Malcolm Grant, warned last month that there was potential for conflict in rural communities if the decision on commercial planting is mishandled.
Villagers vote to oppose GM crop trialsBY PAUL MILLS CAMPAIGNERS opposed to a GM crop experiment taking place in an Essex village have won a "landslide" victory in a residents' poll.
East Anglian Daily Times
Just over 95% of villagers who voted in a referendum registered their opposition to the GM maize trial at a local farm, although 60% of residents chose not to vote on the controversial plans. The referendum was organised by Weeley Parish Council in response to protests after a local farmer agreed to take part in the final year of GM trials.
The farm-scale evaluations are intended to provide data so the Government can make a decision on whether genetically modified crops should be commercialised.
A total of 1,373 Weeley residents received ballot papers asking, "Are you in favour of GM crops being tested in Weeley?" Villagers returned a total of 547 ballot papers, with 520 people voting "No" and 16 voting "Yes". Eleven papers were classified as spoiled. Of those who voted, 95.1% were opposed to the trials taking place.
posted May 4 2002
Government refuses agrimoneyBy Isabel Davies
THE government has refused to apply for £72 million of agrimoney compensation, blaming competing demands on the public purse. In a letter to the National Farmers' Union, food and farming minister Lord Whitty said the government had examined the issue but decided not to make a claim.
"While I know the decision will be a disappointment, we thought that this expenditure could not be justified, bearing in mind the many competing demands on public funds." But NFU president Ben Gill said the decision was short-sighted in the extreme. "The decision not to even apply for this money defies belief, particularly from a government that claims to be supporting the revival of British agriculture." The European Commission had offered £37.8m to UK dairy farmers, £24.5m to beef farmers, and £9m to sheep producers. The money was there to compensate British farmers for the strength of Sterling, which has devalued farm support mechanisms set in Euros.
May 3 2002
Over the Gate by Jeff Swift...... most dairy farms are family farms and anyone attacking family farms will get short shrift from me. The country would be a much worse place without them.
And so it would appear that milk producers will take little comfort from last week's predictions by DEFRA about how they see dairy farming in the year's ahead. It is full of clichis about cuts in milk price paid to the producers and hints about world milk price but as I'm sure you will have guessed, the most important saying was missing - you know, the one about a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. There have, of course, been plenty of changes but milking cows is still a seven day a week job. I do not of course claim to be any sort of a spokesman for milk producers.
It must be 40 years since I milked cows, but I do think I have the understanding to set out the common sense issues here. I take all this trendy talk about restructuring with a pinch of salt.
What it means is that farms have to get bigger and bigger. You will remember me telling you that last year the country's largest dairy farmer, who was milking 3,000 cows, packed up because the year before he lost £800,000. I rest my case.
Margaret Beckett is keen to get rid of milk quotas, but they are a tool of supply management and she must know that without them milk production would go through the roof with more people going for many more cows to see if they could make money out of say 3,000 cows. In doing so they would squeeze out small producers (family farms) and probably go bust into the bargain.
Now I'll tell you what I think dairy farmers need: They need income and stability and a government that wants them. You must decide for yourself whether Margaret Becket is right, but I tell you this I'm not wrong. I am indebted to a friend for giving me what sets out yet another facet of the present position. It goes like this.
A highly efficient dairy farmer who milks 130 cows with an average yield of 8,400 litres (sorry about the metric), and so producing a million litres of milk, wonders how ever he can manage to carry on in business with the 5p litre price cut he has just suffered. Our friend then reads in the Irish Examiner how a dairy farmer in Ireland is making a comfortable living milking just 30 cows averaging only 6,000 litres each. A very fair question he asks is "how can this be?" The UK is awash, we are told with cheap Irish and Continental milk. Because the milk price is fixed in Euros and the euro has devalued, those using the currency have an immediate price advantage of 15%.
Also, Irish, French and German governments are keen to help with things like tax breaks, hidden subsidies and their own interpretation of the Common Agriculture Policy while the UK government shows no such initiative nor does it even look likely. Just to make the pill even more bitter, British taxpayers pay over to the CAP £5 billion of which only £2.2 billion comes back to help British Farmers. Put another way for every £1 we send to the CAP to help our own farmers, the UK taxpayer send another £ 1.50 to help our competitors. If you ever wonder why supermarket shelves are almost collapsing under the weight of cheap foods from the continent, I hope I have explained the reason. Do not be fooled by the suggestion that joining the euro would solve it. Far from it because if we did, we would only be permitted to join at the present exchange rate, so we would be stuck with the present large disadvantage for good and all time. Dialect word: Stoup - meaning gatepost. Thought for the Day: What do farmers call the handling of the Foot and Mouth crisis? A cock-up followed by a cover-up.
May 3 2002
Blair bid to spike guns of political reportersBy George Jones, Political Editor
TONY BLAIR sought yesterday to gain control of the news agenda by announcing the biggest shake-up to the system of political reporting for decades.
Downing Street's briefings are to be opened to all journalists in an attempt to reduce the influence of the parliamentary lobby system. After weeks on the defensive over "sleaze" scandals, the Jo Moore "burying bad news" row, and accusations of making announcements outside Parliament, the Government intends to change the way it briefs the press.
According to Downing Street, the aim is to give Parliament a higher profile and ensure that ministers, not unelected spokesmen, are seen as "the face of the Government". But the changes will downgrade the importance of the lobby - a privileged group of journalists representing newspapers, news agencies and broadcasters - who receive daily briefings from Downing Street and ministers.
The Conservatives said the changes showed that Labour's "control freaks" remained firmly in charge - and that Mr Blair was trying to downgrade the media after already downgrading Parliament. Intense questioning from the lobby has already forced Alastair Campbell, who was Mr Blair's press spokesman in the last Parliament, to stop giving official briefings. He now works behind the scenes in Downing Street as director of communications and strategy.
The lobby system has proved to be a considerable thorn in the side of successive governments. The new proposals could end the way experienced and politically-aware Westminster-based journalists have been able to cross-examine Mr Blair's spokesman in detail on major issues. Some recent lobby meetings have become heated as correspondents have pressed the Government over various scandals. These included the "steelgate" affair involving the Indian tycoon, Lakshmi Mittal, and the events resulting in Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, admitting that he had misled Parliament.
Under Downing Street's plans journalists could find if difficult to subject the Government to such intense scrutiny - while ministers might find it easier to divert attention to subjects of their choosing. Ministers are concerned over the depth of cynicism in which Labour is held, with the Government's reputation for honesty questioned by the public. Mr Blair's spokesman said yesterday that the aim was to make the briefings more open.
Ministers, senior civil servants and experts would be invited to brief on developments in policy - such as the Chief of the Defence Staff when Britain was involved in military conflict. Briefings would be open to all journalists including the foreign press based in London. Senior political correspondents were unexpectedly summoned to Downing Street yesterday to be told of the plans - apparently to forestall leaks about them. The No 10 spokesman said that the Government's communications strategy would give more prominence to Parliament, with Mr Blair and other ministers making more statements to MPs. Robin Cook, Leader of the Commons, who chairs Westminster's modernisation committee, said the changes were part of a process of increasing transparency and refocusing attention on Parliament.
Tim Collins, Tory spokesman on Cabinet affairs, said opening briefings to "all-comers" would make it harder for senior broadcasters and newspaper political editors to pursue Downing Street. It would be harder to get at the kind of "sleazy scandals and policy contradictions" that were the "trademark" of Mr Blair's second term.
He said: Number 10, which has been forced on to the defensive in recent months on a whole range of issues by the sustained questioning from senior media figures is now trying to move the goalposts. The truth is that Number 10 spokesmen can no longer stand the heat of trying to defend the indefensible and protect the Government from legitimate scrutiny."
Paul Tyler, for the Liberal Democrats, welcomed the move towards more open government. But Sir Bernard Ingham, who was Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, said: "It is a further sidelining of Parliament - and Parliament should rise up against it."
May 3 2002
Downing Street ignores issues to polish its imagePolitical Briefing by Peter Riddell
THE proposed changes in Downing Street briefings are about the Prime Minister's public image: and the Government's desire to appear more open and answer allegations of spin. To talk about the end of an era, as some did yesterday, is over the top. The changes will make little difference to the political information reported in The Times and other papers. It is usually right to be cynical about promises of openness made by governments. The specific proposal to put the morning Downing Street briefing on a more formal and open basis, with questioning of ministers and officials by a much wider range of journalists, is sensible in its own right. It is only the latest stage, however, in a series of steps that has opened up the briefings given to political journalists. About four or five reporters from every leading newspaper are accredited by the House of Commons authorities and are known as lobby journalists.
Twenty years ago these briefings were officially secret and were not supposed to be attributed to a specific source. Instead, ridiculous circumlocutions like "authoritative sources" were used. This left responsibility for what was said floating in the air.
The system began to change after Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street in November 1990. The form of attribution then became much more specific. The main remaining obscurities were removed after 1997, when it was made plain that the briefings were given by the Prime Minister's official spokesmen. For the past three years sanitised summaries have been put on the Downing Street website.
This subject has been of great interest to conspiracy theorists but, in reality, is grossly overblown. I doubt if a single one of the millions of non-voters yesterday cared a damn about who briefs whom when. The secret of the lobby system is that it is not secret. The twice-daily briefings are largely routine affairs and seldom more than a minor input into the main political stories in this and other newspapers. The "story behind the story" is more interesting. The fifth anniversary opinion polls have shown that the public is very critical of Tony Blair over so-called "spin" and manipulation. On a deeper level, this mood is seen as contributing to disillusionment with Westminster politicians and mainstream parties.
Mr Blair and his advisers have concluded that he needs to appear more open. Last Friday he reversed his previous stance and announced that he would be willing to be questioned twice a year in public by the chairmen of Commons select committees, sitting together as the Liaison Committee. This was presented, rather primly, and belatedly, as evidence of the recognition of the importance of Parliament as "the centre of political debate". All depends on whether the chairmen organise their questioning to ensure sustained scrutiny or whether they all want their five minutes in the limelight.
Yesterday's announcement is primarily of symbolic importance. It is secondary to the accountability of the expanded Downing Street operation, the full and rapid implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and the far-reaching plans for strengthening the ability of Commons select committees to scrutinise the executive. These are about power, not spin.
May 3 2002
South Korean pigs killed in foot-and-mouth scareSouth Korea has begun slaughtering 6,500 pigs following a suspected outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at a farm near Seoul.
Agriculture Minister Kim Dong-tae said the government would slaughter 6,500 pigs and 34 cattle within a 1,650ft radius of the affected farm near Ansung. Soldiers and police armed with sterilisation gear have also been dispatched to 13 livestock farms in the region.
Authorities also banned movement of livestock and closed down all livestock markets within a 12-mile radius of the stricken farm. Kim said: "We are expecting the final results of our tests on Saturday, but we are trying to prevent a possible spread of disease."
Deputy Agriculture Minister Suh Kyu-yong said experts investigating the affected farm found symptoms of the highly contagious disease. Some South Korean farms were hit by foot-and-mouth in 2000, forcing authorities to kill 2,000 cattle and pigs and inoculate 400,000. That outbreak halted lucrative South Korean pork exports and the latest scare came only days after the country resumed exports on Monday.
May 3 2002
Compost confusion threatens recyclingBy Charles Clover, Environment Editor
CONFUSION over composting could cause the collapse of the Government's plans to increase recycling, and lead to more waste being incinerated, councils said yesterday.
The crisis over composting, caused by the Government's delay in setting the health standards that compost is supposed to achieve, is being compared to the ongoing crises over fridges and abandoned cars.
Earlier this week, the Government admitted that rules imposed to stop meat from catering waste causing another epidemic of foot and mouth or swine fever could be interpreted as banning kitchen waste, such as potato peelings, from compost heaps.
Though the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said it had no intention of preventing people composting their kitchen waste, or councils from composting green wastes, the legal implications of the new rules have caused major problems for local authorities. Cheshire, for example, which composts 30,000 tons of green waste, such as garden clippings, each year has not been able to use the material for anything other than backfilling landfill sites in case the compost contains food waste from households. Kay Twitchen, Conservative chairman of the Local Government Association's waste executive, said the confusion is making more incineration, which is unpopular, more likely. "There is a total lack of clarity from government about whether we can compost kitchen waste and use it as compost," she said. "The department has got to get its act together. .......
May 3 2002
Foot-and-mouthFrom Miss Susan Berrett
Sir, Your report ("Foot-and-mouth rules endanger farm shows", April 29) raises several questions. Apart from the disastrous impact on agricultural shows, what impact will these ridiculous rules have on working farms or establishments with cows, pigs, sheep or llamas on display to the public? If these rules are applicable to such organisations, this will surely result in their demise?
The economic knock-on effect will be far-reaching, well beyond the bounds of the rural economy.
Secondly, if animal faeces must be removed at shows to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, what about farms where livestock crosses public roads - must the farmer run along behind with a poop scoop in case someone should drive through or tread in the offending dung? Yours faithfully,
Leominster, Herefordshire HR6 0LH.
From Mr Jan Taranczuk
Sir, The concern shown by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about foot-and-mouth being spread by animals at agricultural shows is misplaced. The animals will be in excellent condition, but the visiting human beings should be subject to control and disinfection.
Yours faithfully, JAN TARANCZUK,
May 3 2002
Farmers' Fury at AllegationsSTROUD MP David Drew suffered a backlash from famers in his constituency this week after he accused them of causing and deliberately spreading last year's foot and mouth outbreak.
"We thought he was one of us - he sat on the rural committee," said a furious Martin Wright, South Gloucestershire secretary of the National Farmers Union.
"He will have to work hard to get back in favour - these accusations have caused a huge heartache in the farming community." Mr Drew, chairman of the Labour Group of Rural MPs had made damming allegations in a letter to leading landowner John Berkeley of Berkeley castle.
Mr Berkeley had written to Mr Drew asking the government to hold a full public enquiry into the disease. He said he was shocked when he received a reply from Mr Drew which stated: "The problems of farming are deep seated and some are self-inflicted. "Government may not have got everything right, but the industry has much to answer for." Mr Drew alleged at the end of his letter that farmers made fraudulent use of EU production and environmental payment schemes.
Mr Berkeley said the allegations were a big let down for farmers. He had written to Mr Drew as he was concerned no enquiry was being held into why the outbreak happened last year. "The disease is just waiting to happen again," said Mr Berkeley. "We need to learn how it happened and where mistakes were made."
Mr Drew's reply sent shock-waves through the farming community. Mr Wright said farmers could not be held responsible for the spreading of foot and mouth and refuted any idea that they tried to gain subsidies through corruption.
"There are so many rules and regulations which are so tight and onerous they can't be broken. Farmers are given fines for the most timid mistakes," he said. "No farmer I know is responsible for corruption, if Mr Drew has evidence he needs to provide it.
Neil Carmichael, Conservative parliamentary spokesman for Stroud said Mr Drew should: "Put up or shut up." "Where is his evidence," he said. "The fact he has the audacity to blame farmers is just crazy."
But Mr Drew told the SNJ yesterday that he stood by every one of the comments made in his letter. He suspected Mr Berkeley had leaked the private letter for party political gain. "The views I have expressed are fairly blunt but I have said them before," he said. "I was talking to farmers all the time during the the foot and mouth problems. "There is a feeling of hurt but I'm trying to express the need for wider reform."
May 2 2002
WEST MP GOES TO WAR WITH FARMERSA labour MP who accused farmers of deliberately spreading footand-mouth has been challenged to produce evidence or resign. Stroud MP David Drew caused uproar among farmers with the allegation, made in a letter to a constituent. His outburst was revealed in the Western Daily Press on Saturday. In the letter he accused farmers of "poor husbandry and "overintensive methods" which he said enabled the spread of the disease.
Western Daily Press
Mr Drew, chairman of the Rural Group of Labour MPs, has come in for a stinging attack by Richard Haddock, vice-chairman of the NFU's national livestock committee and spokesman for livestock producers in the West. Mr Haddock said: "If he cannot support this kind of wild allegation then he has only one course and that is to resign because farmers will not accept anything else." Mr Drew's letter was sent to John Berkeley, deputy lieutenant of Gloucestershire, in response to his call for a public foot-and-mouth inquiry. Mr Berkeley said he was shocked at the MP's reply.
Mr Drew told him: "The problems of farming are deep-seated and some are self-inflicted. Footand-mouth is just the latest problem visited upon an industry in desperate need of reform."
Mr Drew admitted there should have been a full inquiry but said it should have examined all the factors which caused the disease, "including poor husbandry, overintensive methods and deliberate spreading of the disease". In a detailed response, Mr Haddock said the MP had no grounds for attacking farmers. He said: "There were reports that the pig farm where the outbreak started previously came to the attention of the local authorities because of the conditions there, but why had the authorities not taken action? That cannot be blamed on other farmers.
"If Mr Drew is referring to the way so many animals were being moved around the country then he should know that if Tesco or Safeway tells farmers they must take their animals from Scotland to the South-west to be slaughtered then that is what they have to do. "Most of the supermarkets are big Labour supporters so that is something for his party to look at.
You cannot pin that on farmers.
"Had Mr Drew ever met any of the farmers who locked themselves away for months on their properties because they were petrified of foot-and-mouth arriving, he would know better than to claim the disease was being deliberately spread.
"These remarks are an insult to 99.9 per cent of farmers who had nothing to do with foot-and-mouth spreading. Unless Mr Drew can produce evidence then he must go."Mr Drew stood by his remarks and insisted exploitation of the sheep subsidy by farmers and dealers helped spread the disease.
Tory agriculture spokesman Peter Ainsworth said the remarks were inexcusable, adding: "This letter displays a staggering ignorance of the issues surrounding the crisis in farming. "It lays bare the profound contempt that rural people have long suspected underlies Labour's whole approach to the countryside."
May 2 2002
WE MUST FIGHT TO RETAIN OUR FREEDOM...... About a year ago, just before foot and mouth disease hit us, I bought a book authored by Melvyn Bragg and titled Speak for England. It was first published in 1976 and is "An essay on England: 1900-1975 based on interviews with inhabitants of Wigton, Cumberland". I have now read the book; a great read, and as I sadly read the postscript some of the last few lines entranced me. If I may, I would like to note those lines here:
Letter in NorthDevon Journal
"And yet if one point struck me more than any other about those I interviewed, it would be their differences from each other and the evidence of a wish to be distinctive and have freedom to do what pleased them and what impressed them as the best thing to do. In short there is definitely, love of liberty all around and it is the reinstating of that passion which could re-establish England as a place where life was added unto. Power to the people indeed.
"If this seems a grandiose claim - then look back on some of the matters revealed in this book. Modest, perhaps; unheroic, possibly, but again and again we met with that stubborn resistance to the arbitrary imposition of authority which has been the best boast of the England that rose and can rise again.
"In almost every contribution there is an idea of self-dependence and an ambition for independence - something inherited, embraced and cherished and something which, at this moment in world history, could not be more valuable. And inside the grand notions of freedom and liberty which come from this country and can still come from this country, there is the simple stubbornness and fair-mindedness of the individual English man or woman. Not to be 'put on', not to be 'pushed around' - these are the colloquial expressions which are the foundations of those large ideas of free man in a free society which need re-stating now as loudly and firmly as ever.
"In this I believe we are unique as a country. It is not fashionable and it is not headline news - but it is vital and can only be increasingly important as the world seems to swing to authoritarian solutions of the Left, of the Right and of the Big.
"If we have a role, then that is it - not only the guardians of liberty but the spokesmen for it and fighters for it. The need may be greater than ever!" Melvyn Bragg finished this book in 1976, when Cumberland and Westmorland remained unique, when farming thrived and people were generally happy. What did Melvyn know that we didn't?
"Not to be 'put on', not to be 'pushed around' - at this moment in world history - which need re-stating now as loudly and firmly as ever - not only the guardians of liberty but the spokesmen for it and fighters for it. The need may be greater than ever!"
These last few lines, written by a great Cumbrian, sent shivers down my spine! The need may never be greater! The spirit of Cumbria has changed little over the years since 1976. As the Cumbria Inquiry grows ever nearer, Mr Blair, you may find to your ultimate cost, the spirit of Cumbria lives on and will haunt you for some time to come! You may well regret the actions you imposed on us!
Nick Green Cumbria
May 2 2002
Trials and tribulationsKirsty Scott
Guardian Anger grows over failure to stop GM crop test in Highlands
In the big field above the small Easter Ross village of Munlochy, in the Scottish Highlands, small yellow flowers have started to appear. In a matter of weeks, villagers expect to find a thick layer of pollen coating windowsills and car roofs, as happened last year.
Munlochy is the site of one of the UK's biggest GM crop trials - 15 hectares of oil seed rape, an experiment that has roused a community and split Scotland's parliament. Last week, under cover of darkness, someone entered the field at Roskill Farm and ripped out some five acres of plants. And on Saturday, five people were arrested after tearing up more plants.
A spokesman for Scottish GM protesters says the movement has been forced to take matters into its own hands. "The Scottish executive has ignored our plea not to endanger the economy of the Highlands, with its reputation for pure and natural food production," says the spokesman. "They have taken no heed of the growing body of scientific evidence of the unpredictable and irreversible risks of GM crops. So we have taken responsibility for our own safety and environment."
The damage was done just days after Holyrood's transport and environment committee had called on the Scottish executive to have the crop trial ploughed up. It voted 5-4 in favour of a recommendation that the trial could harm the environment and the food chain.
But the call was ignored by the rural redevelopment minister, Ross Finnie, a Liberal Democrat, who has held to the line that there is no new evidence the trial poses any harm and that he is bound by a European directive to allow the test to continue. But he is becoming increasingly isolated in his stance. On the same weekend protesters were destroying parts of the crop, the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference voted 2-1 to end the trial. The party's UK leader, Charles Kennedy, is one of 4,000 people to have signed a petition calling for a halt to the experimen. And this week, in the Scottish parliament, a Lib Dem colleague of Finnie's will lodge a private member's bill that would make it illegal to grow GM crops in Scotland.
Last Thursday, the Scottish National Party joined Holyrood's only Green MSP, Robin Harper, in his fight to persuade the executive to back down. Harper says: "I am no longer a lone voice in the parliament. We have got to keep pressing on this. The executive has the power to plough the crop in, and we have the evidence that should persuade them this is the best thing to do." That evidence centres on a new European environment agency report, which Harper says warns of a high risk that growing GM oilseed rape will result in genetic contamination between different varieties of GM plants, and between GM plants and their wild relatives. And a study from New Zealand, he says, concluded there should be no further development or field-testing of GM organisms because of uncertain ties about the risk they present.
But Finnie insists that, having received advice from the UK advisory committee on releases to the environment (Acre), the executive was bound by law to allow continuation of the trial - although Acre pointed out at the weekend that Finnie is not bound by its advice. "The Scottish executive will not take risks with the health of Scotland's people or with its environment, and it would be irresponsible for it to ignore the unequivocal assurances of our expert advisers and withhold consent on the basis of doubts or concerns which are not supported by the evidence," he says. Up at Munlochy, protesters have been mounting a vigil for almost 10 months at the site, which was first earmarked for GM trials by the seed company Aventis in 2000. Campaigner Anthony Jackson says Finnie's excuses don't wash and that, under the Environment Protection Act of 1990, he has the ability to revoke consent. He says: "The minister has been told to act by a parliamentary committee, his own party has voted to stop this, and he has the powers to do so. What more does he need?"
May 2 2002
Compost could be a heap of troubleBy Charles Clover, Environment Editor
THE ubiquitous television gardener Alan Titchmarsh advocates composting and the Government, it was thought, was all for it. But in the middle of National Compost Week, it has been discovered that throwing potato peelings, teabags or cauliflower leaves on your heap can be illegal. Composting kitchen waste, as good gardeners have done through the ages, can violate regulations designed to prevent the spread of animal disease.
In 1999 the Government drew up new rules to prevent the spread of highly contagious diseases, such as swine fever and foot and mouth, by scraps of meat - a real fear since the last outbreak of swine fever was blamed on a rambler's ham sandwich. The regulations forbid the spreading of compost made from materials prepared in the same premises as meat on land where livestock are likely to graze. Livestock, for the purposes of the regulations, include wild birds. So any gardener who spreads compost made from kitchen waste on land accessible to birds is theoretically guilty of an offence if he or she does not dig it in.
The implications of the Animal By-Products Order 1999 have been discovered by the National Trust, which has been trying to find out what it needs to do to make its many compost heaps comply with the law. Yesterday the trust announced that it had had to stop using "green" vegetable waste from its catering outlets as a result of the 1999 Order. Tamzin Phillips said: "It presents us with some interesting challenges. We cannot compost the leaves off the cauliflowers, the teabags or the coffee grounds."
Only vegan households would not be acting illegally in composting their kitchen waste under the trust's interpretation of the law. An embarrassed spokesman at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the regulations were never intended to cover compost. A "risk assessment" was being carried out on compost this month, after which the department would look at the regulations again.
Peter Ainsworth, the Tory environment spokesman, said: "This is another story of staggering incompetence. My advice is to carry on composting. It is good for the environment."
May 2 2002
Compost criminals risk £5,000 fineAlan Titchmarsh, the nation's favourite gardener, is in danger of turning his fans into criminals. This week, as part of national compost week, he is encouraging Britons to throw vegetable peelings on compost heaps and spread compost in their back gardens.
But the environment agency says the age old practice of gardeners recycling waste to grow next year's crops is a danger to the public. Fungal spores produced as the compost breaks down could infect the neighbours, the agency has decided.
Regulations require compost heaps to have a licence and an environmental risk assessment if the compost heap is within 250 metres of a dwelling or workplace. The penalty for failing to get a licence is a £5,000 fine.
...The Department of the Environment, however, does not seem to know what its enforcement agency is doing. The department is exhorting parks and local authorities to compost to cut the nation's growing pile of waste
...An embarrassed environment agency said yesterday it would not be prosecuting individual gardeners or asking them for a licence. Householders are exempt but guidance on health effects is being formulated.
May 1 2002
Farmers have say on foot-and-mouthFARMERS will share their experiences and thoughts on last year's foot-and-mouth crisis with Wales-Euro-MP Eurig Wyn when he visits Carmarthen mart tomorrow. Mr Wyn, recently elected as coordinator for the European Parliament's Foot-and-Mouth Disease Inquiry team, is gathering views from around Wales on the outbreak.
The Western Mail
He said, "We need to analyse the causes of the crisis, look at the Government's handling of the situation and consider what we can learn from it. "Some difficult questions need to be answered and the best way of doing that is to get evidence from those who suffered directly and indirectly here in Wales.
"I hope to bring my influence to bear on behalf of the affected communities as well as all sectors of the industry left devastated by the epidemic. The best way for me to do that is by listening to the views of those who were at the sharp end of the crisis presenting their evidence to the inquiry." The inquiry team - which included Mr Wyn - made its first official visit to the UK earlier this month when they heard in Scotland and the North of England how a total lack of co-ordination in government policy and an inability to act quickly was one of the main reasons the outbreak spread so suddenly.
He said, "There was total inaction for too long for the policy of eradicating the disease to have any hope of success. "Farmers told me that it might take three years for the industry to return to normal and in many areas, because of farmers opting to leave the industry, it might never recover."
The Northumberland inquiry he said highlighted the need for a thorough and comprehensive inquiry to be conducted on a local level, begging the question why Wales had not conducted its own inquiry after such devastation.
Mr Wyn, a prominent member of the European Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said anyone who wished to present their views should go to Carmarthen Mart between 11.30am and 1pm tomorrow. Those who are unable to be present can send written comments to Mr Wyn at 3 Hill Street, Haverfordwest SA61 1QQ, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
posted May 1 2002
Letter to Western Morning NewsSir,
You reported the conference on Foot and Mouth Disease at Exeter University (WMN, Monday 22nd April) as concluding that "extensive research is still needed". I don't accept that view.
As a delegate representing Smallholders Online, I was astonished to hear Professor Joe Brownlie of the Royal Veterinary College say that vaccination against FMD did not prevent disease occurring, it merely masked the symptoms; while Dick Sibley, of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, said that vaccination did not work.
Modern FMD vaccines use "killed" virus to stimulate the natural production of antibodies by the immune system, just as many other livestock and human vaccines do. These antibodies remain in the blood for a year or more, to neutralise any live virus challenge that arises and provide immunity from infection.
While there may be scope for improvement, the current vaccines work - how else did Europe eliminate endemic FMD by 1990, except by using vaccination?And why else would government agencies throughout the world maintain millions of doses in expensive storage facilities for emergency use?
Smallholders Online www.smallholders.org
May 1 2002
Criminalising the countrysideDate: 30 April 2002
SIR - It seems that, in my normal year of work, I shall be contravening all or most of the "five freedoms" in the proposed Bill of Rights for animals.
When a ewe has lost her lamb, we put her into a pen with only water and a little straw to eat. Her udder will be full of milk and, if fed normally with the rest, she will almost certainly contract mastitis - which can be life-threatening to her. So I will be guilty of starving her.
We may put particular ewes in smaller pens for a short while after lambing, to prevent them turning round and crushing their lambs. We have had flighty ewes who have killed both of their lambs in this way when put into large pens. I am guilty of causing them discomfort by putting them into small cages.
Sheep are well known for finding different ways to die each year, just to keep the shepherd on his toes. If an animal displays signs of being under the weather and I don't spot it quickly enough, I am guilty of inflicting illness and suffering.
Presumably, I am just as guilty if I do spot the problem and treat it myself, because I haven't called a vet - at £70 or £80 a visit, this is more than the animal is worth.
The goose that has made its nest in the hedge is lifted into secure housing for the night, away from the marauding foxes and badgers. But that makes me guilty of disrupting its normal behaviour.
Every time we put our sheep or cattle through a crush or race to administer wormer, or homoeopathic therapy, or drugs of any kind, I am guilty of inflicting fear and distress. As for rounding up the sheep with a sheepdog, there is no question that this will ultimately form two offences, one under the Bill of Rights, the other under an amended Hunting with Dogs Act.
Am I being cynical and over-reacting? Or is it really this Government's policy to criminalise everyone in the countryside?
From: David Eyles, Dorset
See also this pertinent letter about the postal vote experiment
Re: Concern over postal pollingDate: 30 April 2002
SIR - At this week's local elections, for the first time in my adult life, I shall not be voting. This is not due to apathy, nor disillusion with the established political parties - though heaven knows the latter would be reason enough.
My franchise will go unexercised because, in common with every other voter in my local ward, I am being denied the right to a secret ballot. As part of a compulsory experiment in postal voting, if I wish to take part in the democratic process, I am required to mail proof of my identity and address in the same envelope as my completed ballot paper.
I realise, of course, that even conventional polling cannot guarantee 100 per cent privacy, as it is technically possible to match numbered ballot papers with their counterfoils, but this latest innovation strikes me as taking freedom of information too far.
When, at the end of this week, our political masters start wringing their hands about the inevitably pathetic electoral turn-out, they would do well to consider whether postal voting is part of the answer, or part of the problem.
From: Robert Sharr, Essex
Sharp rise in cases of animal crueltyBy Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent
Reports of animal cruelty have risen dramatically in the past decade to 1.5m a year, while the number of convictions has declined to fewer than 2,500.
In 2001, inspectors responded to 1.5m phone calls about animals in distress - one every 20 seconds - and a rise of more than 350,000 since 1991. The number of complaints investigated has gone up from 86,531 a year in 1991 to 123,156. But despite the increases, the number of convictions dropped to 2,449 last year, compared to 2,718 successful prosecutions in 1991. Judges handed out six prison sentences for cruelty. In 80 cases, owners were banned for life from keeping any animals.
Tony Crittenden, the RSPCA's chief officer of the inspectorate, said of the figures: "We are supposed to be a nation of animal lovers and yet our inspectors come across some of the most distressing cases of neglect and suffering day in day out."
The RSPCA has proposed an animal "bill of rights", that would include a statutory "duty of care". Based on the "five freedoms" set out for farm animals in the 1960s, pets such as cats and dogs would be legally entitled to food and water, shelter and access to a vet. Owners would be required to provide them with the opportunity to "express normal behaviour" and freedom from "fear and distress".
Ministers are considering legislation that would guarantee pets a minimum quality of life.
April 30 2002
Tighter controls on beef proposedBy Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor
GOVERNMENT experts have advised tighter controls on beef to prevent meat from TB-infected cattle entering the food chain. Latest figures from the Government showed yesterday that the incidence of bovine TB in cattle was up 75 per cent from 2000, due largely to the lack of testing of cattle during last year's foot-and-mouth epidemic.
Government figures also show that cases identified in abattoirs so far this year have doubled and that there are fears that many infected animals show no TB lesions at all. Scientists on the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Foods (ACMSF) have urged the Food Standards Agency to adopt stricter quality checks in abattoirs. They are particularly concerned that beef from TB-infected carcasses might contaminate meat from healthy animals.
Although health risks to human beings from eating meat from TB-infected cattle is judged to be low provided meat is cooked at a correct temperature, scientists have expressed concern about cross-contamination of products. At present just under 2,000 TB-infected cattle a year are sold for human consumption. Only animal carcasses showing more than two TB lesions in organs are condemned from the food chain, the rest being sold to be eaten.
The ACMSF has called on the Government to bring British practice in line with Europe and to ensure that infected carcasses are kept separate from healthy ones. It also believes that any carcass showing more than one TB lesion in an organ should be banned from the food chain. The Government also announced that it was to restart its badger cull from tomorrow in the ten worst bovine TB hotspots, mainly in the South West. Some 9,000 badgers will be killed before the end of next year as part of scientific tests.
April 30 2002
NFU PRAISE FOR 'USEFUL EXCHANGE'A visit by members of the European Parliament's committee of inquiry into the foot and mouth disease outbreak to Devon was yesterday praised by South West NFU regional director Anthony Gibson.
Western morning News
The MEPs made their first visit to Devon-one of the areas worst hit by last year's epidemic, where a total of 386,000 head of sheep, cattle, pigs and goats were slaughtered after 173 cases of the disease were confirmed in the county.
The NFU's South West regional director, Anthony Gibson, said the MEPs were interested "in the practicalities rather than the politics" and in learning lessons for the future, for a co-ordinated European policy on foot and mouth.
Mr Gibson, together with farmers, businessmen and local politicians, had talks with the MEPs during the day-long visit. "It was a very useful exchange. They were able to talk to farmers in the front line of foot and mouth, including those who had cattle slaughtered or suffered dislocation or financial loss," said Mr Gibson. "They said they felt it had been one of the most useful meetings they have had during the course of their investigations."
Dutch Liberal Jan Mulder, vice president of the EU fact-finding committee on foot-and-mouth, said yesterday it was "very useful" to talk to people involved in the outbreak, adding that the Netherlands suffered "enormously" and it was interesting to compare the experiences. The delegation also included South West Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson, and East Midlands Liberal Democrat MEP Nick Clegg.
They visited the giant £5.6 million Ash Moor burial pit, built by the Ministry of Agriculture near Hatherleigh soon after the outbreak of the disease and designed to take up to 400,000 carcasses, but never used.
April 29 2002
Foot-and-mouth rules endanger farm showsBy Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor
MANY of this year's agricultural shows may face cancellation because of new rules that ban cow pats from showgrounds. Ministers have insisted on tough bio-security rules to prevent a flare-up of the foot-and-mouth virus, and cow pats will be banned from any part of showgrounds where visitors might walk.
People will be forbidden to touch bulls, dairy cows, pigs or llamas. Sheep are already banned from being included in the shows. Show organisers believe that some of the controls are unworkable, unnecessary and will be extremely expensive to adopt. They fear that people will stay away from agricultural shows, leading to further financial problems in rural communities. The shows, which can bring in thousands of pounds, are a boost the rural economy. There is particular concern about the requirements on dung. Organisers fear that they will have to recruit an army of people with buckets, shovels and pooper-scoopers to comply with the new government regulations.
All manure must be cleared from the soiled area, which must then be covered over with sand or sawdust. The rules apply to the route taken by animals from their stalls to the show ring. The regulations do not apply to horses as they cannot catch foot-and-mouth disease. The new rules also affect parade grounds. Guidelines from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) even suggest that "it may be more practical to cover the ring with a removable surface for the duration of the use by animals".
Organisers have now made a new plea to Elliot Morley, the Animal Health Minister, and Lord Whitty, the Farming Minister, to urge them to relax the controls which they claim are disproportionate. Carola Godman Law, Chairman of the South of England Show council, has written to ministers urging a rethink of the rules. She believes that Defra has failed to acknowledge the care and attention lavished on animals in advance of an agricultural show or to recognise that each animal is checked by a professional vet on arrival at the showground.
Any symptoms of disease would be immediately spotted, she said. She is also concerned that the general public may be discouraged from attending shows if they have to keep away from animals. In her letter to ministers, she said: "An agricultural show offers a rare chance for the public to see and touch animals. It is more important now than ever before, the countryside having being closed for the better part of last year."
Mrs Godman Law, who farms near Haywards Heath, West Sussex, has told Ministers that if they were really determined about new rules, then she would strongly advise the Government "to insist all footpaths crossing farmland where livestock are grazing also be closed down with immediate effect".
A meeting of the chairmen of the leading agricultural shows is to take place at the Farmers' Club in Central London tomorrow to discuss the new controls. It is the first time the group has met and reflects concerns about the show licence conditions. Among other rules are a regulation which states that cattle must be isolated for 20 days after attending a show. A show on farmland must also be left empty for 28 days before and after the event. This means that there can be no grazing of animals during that period.
Europe's biggest rare breed show and sale, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, has already cancelled its national show and sale because of the regulations. ........
The first show to be licensed under the controls is the Newark and Nottingham- shire County Show on May 11 and 12. Adrian Johnston, the chief executive of the show, estimates that the bill for coping with the rules will run into thousands of pounds. Entries to the show are also down. "These measures make it look as if we still have a foot-and-mouth problem and I am open-mouthed at some of the silly rules suggested to control it," he said. Paul Hooper, the secretary of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations, accepted that there were difficulties cleaning up the manure from grass, especially for shows without a permanent home and without tarmac roads and parks.
He said: "The rules are onerous but I think it is only for this year. I hear the complaints from everyone and we are still in discussion with Defra. "Everybody is trying to do their best and it is important that agricultural shows take place this year. Rural traders need the shows to survive and we must manage to cope as best we can."
A Defra spokesman said that the rules represented "good agricultural practice and were based on veterinary risk assessments". Previous regulations arising from the foot-and-mouth outbreak have proved equally contentious.
Farmers in Scotland reported that a record number of Spring lambs were being killed by foxes this year. They blame this on the temporary ban on foxhunting during the foot-and-mouth outbreak, which lead to an explosion in the fox population.
Jim Pate, a farmer from the Borders, said that he had already lost at least 20 lambs, since the lambing season began in March. "To lose five lambs to foxes in one year is acceptable. To have lost at least 20 already is disastrous," Mr Pate said.
April 29 2002
Activists strike again at GM trial cropProtesters have destroyed part of a field containing genetically modified crops. It comes less than 24 hours after five other demonstrators were arrested by police on vandalism charges. An area of the controversial trial site at Munlochy in the Highlands was damaged after protesters broke into the field in the early hours. Police have not given details on how much of the field at Roskill Farm on the Black Isle was damaged, but campaigners claim that more than half of the GM oilseed rape crop has now been destroyed.
In a statement, the protesters claimed they had decided to act following Scottish environment minister Ross Finnie's refusal to stop the GM crop trials.
A spokesman said: "Our action was peaceful and nobody was injured. The fact that people are more afraid of GM crops than of being arrested by the police speaks for itself." A spokesman for Northern Constabulary said the protesters entered the field some time between 4am and 8am before destroying part of the GM crop. Three men and two women were yesterday remanded in custody charged with breach of the peace and vandalism and are due to appear at Dingwall Sheriff Court tomorrow.
April 29 2002
GM safety tests 'flawed'Safety tests on genetically modified maize currently growing in Britain were flawed, it has emerged. The crop, T-25 GM maize, was tested in laboratory experiments on chickens. During the tests, twice as many chickens died when fed on T-25 GM maize, compared with those fed on conventional maize. This research was apparently overlooked when the crop was given marketing approval in 1996
April 27 2002
More openness needed from scientistsFrank Urquhart
SCIENTISTS will have to be more open and honest with the public if they are to recover the trust they lost in the handling of the BSE and foot-and-mouth epidemics, one of Britain's top infectious disease experts warned yesterday.
Roy Anderson, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at London University's Imperial College, told industry representatives and academics in Aberdeen that the reputation of the scientific community had suffered as a direct result of the outbreaks. He also warned that future epidemics would require scientists to improve their media skills and to be more honest if the public and policy makers were going to be able to understand the complex issues surrounding animal diseases and to take appropriate decisions. Prof Anderson was speaking at Aberdeen's Macaulay Institute in the first a series of lectures organised by the Scottish Agricultural and Biological Research Institutes and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
He said: "Many of the scientific issues in epidemics such as BSE and the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic were quite complex, and included many unknowns about future impacts of possible interventions or even how to measure some key factors. "But the media wanted their science in sound bites, even though these issues were not amenable to being easily explained in a few sentences."
He continued: "The media coverage of the science associated with the foot-and-mouth and BSE epidemics was not as good as it could have been and it has had a knock-on effect in that several surveys suggest that the public don't trust scientists as much as they used to." Scientists, he said, needed better training if they were to be able to explain complex issues to the public without the use of jargon. And universities had to accept greater responsibility for training students and to encourage scientists to be more open with the public.
"Scientists should also be more prepared to admit a lack of knowledge," said Prof Anderson. "Many find it difficult to say 'we haven't got a clue' or 'there's no information on this currently available'. For instance, at the start of the FMD outbreak there were huge gaps in our knowledge about the potential effectiveness of the emergency vaccine, about possible transmission routes and about UK animal movements.
"There is a challenge for the media as well. I actually believe that the UK public would like to see more science in their newspapers, particularly science that is relevant to their everyday lives."
April 27 2002
POLICE STATE, UK 'You're not killing my animals!'By Sarah Foster ) 2002 WorldNetDaily.com
When reporters ask Juanita Wilson, owner of an animal sanctuary in southern Scotland, what she remembers most about last year's foot-and-mouth epidemic, she doesn't hesitate a minute to reply.
"The raid on my premises minutes before 6 o'clock in the morning [May 11]," she answers. "There were at least 30 policemen - we've never been able to ascertain how many exactly, but there were two mini-buses full and a lot of individual cars, plus the slaughter team. They had come to kill my animals and were blocking the roads to keep the media and protesters from getting to me. It's something I'll never forget."
But she has no doubts as to what precipitated MAFF's sudden interest in Mossburn. Though never a "political animal," as she puts it - a spot of campaigning for a candidate for the local council was the extent of her interests in that area - "it's just that this kind of thing makes you political." When the mass slaughtering started, Wilson was galvanized into action, helping stage rallies in front of MAFF headquarters in Dumfries. One of these was held April 29. The following evening she and political activist and publicist Alistair McConnachie co-hosted a public meeting in Lockerbie that featured a panel of well-informed anti-cull, pro-vaccination speakers, including a notable scientist. Over 200 people attended. The speakers told the audience in no uncertain terms that the government's policy of "contiguous culling" - under which animals on farms and properties within a 3-kilometer [1.86 miles] radius of an "infected premise" were killed whether diseased or not (most were not) - was not only unnecessary and ineffective for controlling the spread of the disease, but unlawful. They said that neither the UK Animal Health Act nor the regulations of the European Union required or permitted such a policy. Most important, they explained that there was an alternative to culling; a vaccine existed which was used in much of the world to control foot-and-mouth, but the UK government adamantly refused to allow its use. .....
April 27 2002
FIGHTING BACK UK businesses sue Blair government Want 2 billion pounds for last year's foot-and-mouth debacleIn a landmark legal challenge, thousands of UK businesses that were crippled by the handling of last year's foot-and-mouth epidemic are suing Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor government for a minimum of 1.5 billion pounds in damages ($2.9 billion).
World Net daily
The tab, which could go as high as 7 billion pounds ($10.2 billion), makes this one of the largest compensation suits in British history. Lawyers for the London legal firm Class Law, representing approximately 2,500 people who have joined the action to date, delivered a letter April 19 to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs setting forth their demands.
DEFRA, the agency responsible for managing the final four months of the crisis, was created shortly after the June 7 election by merging the long-established Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and the Department of Environment. In its letter, Class Law seeks pre-action disclosure on behalf of the United Kingdom Rural Business Campaign, an umbrella organization set up to represent victims throughout Britain. .....
the lawsuit is not just about money. It's about getting answers to questions that have dogged the government and its spin doctors from the outset of the epidemic - such as when and how was the disease introduced into England? Did the government know before the official date-of-confirmation that the disease was in the country? If so, what steps, if any, were taken to prevent it or keep it from spreading? Why weren't farmers told of the impending crisis? Once the disease was formally acknowledged, why did the government wait four days before ordering a stop to all animal movements throughout the country - a hesitation that increased the likelihood of its spread? The official version is that the epidemic began at a pig farm in northern England when farmer Bobby Waugh fed contaminated swill to his animals. Waugh, unaware that his animals had been infected, sent a truckload of them to Cheale's abattoir (slaughterhouse) in Essex, a county east of London. There, on Feb. 19, 2001, an official identified the disease in one of the animals. His diagnosis was confirmed the following day. The government has stuck to this story, though it admits the disease was probably in the country "two or three weeks" earlier. But it has steadfastly denied all calls for a public inquiry that would throw light on the causes of what should have been a relatively routine veterinary incident had it been properly handled. Instead, it became the worst tragedy to hit Great Britain in peacetime in over 300 years.
..... "It's time for answers," says Class Law partner Stephen Alexander in a press release. "The government has a duty to at least respond. This is a straightforward matter of political negligence and an abdication of responsibility; it will no doubt end in the High Court." .......
"I witnessed one of the most horrific massacres known in this country and also some of the most incompetent bungling you could hope to imagine," the writer declared. "I spoke to a certain Cumbrian wood yard last Thursday morning. The owner told me they had been contacted in November  concerning supplies of wood for pyres in the event of FMD. This is well-known. But what is not well-known is that this family were blackmailed by MAFF. Supplies of wood and railway sleepers [cross ties] were purchased by MAFF from this yard. When the pyres stopped, it left the yard with a large quantity of sleepers, etc. This caused great cash-flow problems. MAFF refused to pay until the firm took legal action in the form of Breach of Contract. MAFF eventually paid some money in August 2001. "BUT they were told they would only be paid if they signed a confidentiality agreement stating they would not talk about the dealings with MAFF." The writer said he has the name of the wood yard and telephone number. The letter and other materials are posted at www.warmwell.com, a site that has chronicled the entire crisis, day to day, almost from its beginning.......
April 27 2002
F&M vaccine is the answerVACCINATION is the way forward in any future foot-and-mouth outbreak in the European Union according Jan Mulder, the Dutch deputy chairman of the EU inquiry into the epidemic, writes Farming Reporter Justin Hawkins.
Ring vaccination was used in Mr Mulder's native Netherlands when the virus was detected there in February 2001, with eight confirmed cases. "In the Netherlands we had vaccination instead of contiguous culling," he said, and added that, although the animals were culled after being vaccinated, the Dutch outbreak was over by June.
As well as a vaccination programme Mr Mulder said that to prevent further outbreaks there also had to be better border controls.
Cumbria Tourist Board chief executive Chris Collier, who addressed the meeting of the EU inquiry panel at the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal, said the vaccination issue should be sorted out: "Learn while we are at peace so if the war returns we are prepared." She described culling as a "barbaric and medieval" process which had taken its toll mentally on many people and should not be repeated. Tourism recovery was "ongoing" she claimed. Visitor numbers looked good and she was optimistic about a successful season: "But there are some people in the valleys still feeling the pain. If you have lost all your cash reserves and are still borrowing money it is difficult." Burn How Garden House Hotel director Michael Robinson said central lakes tourism recovered well from the foot-and-mouth outbreak. The Bowness hotelier's message for the committee to take back to Brussels was to encourage a dialogue between tourism and farming, with diversification being the key word: "Farming can learn a lot from tourism," he said.
Cumbria's NFU deputy chairman Steve Dunning said a South African vet had told him Third World countries handle foot-and-mouth better than Britain.
He said he felt very sorry for the tourist industry: "I saw businesses stop. If this happens again tourism must go on. Footpaths must be found that can be used." Former NFU county chairman Gordon Capstick said from day one foot-and-mouth was mishandled: "There was a lack of urgency by Government. Cumbria, Northumbria and County Durham had seven MAFF vets between them. "There has to be a contingency whether it be vaccination or not, " he said.
The EU visit to Kendal last week focused on the impact of the epidemic on the tourist industry, earlier it looked at farming issues further north. But the inquiry has come under fire for the briefness if its visit to the worst affected parts of Britain and for not holding public meetings.
The meetings at Longtown Auction Mart and at Kendal were not open to the public.
Indeed, the only genuinely public meeting of the visit was at Gretna Green and lasted only two-and-a-half hours.
NFU North West policy adviser Veronica Waller said: "We feel the visit has been far too short to get over in sufficient detail the lessons to be learned from Cumbria's experience of foot-and-mouth."
posted April 27 2002
FACES BEHIND INQUIRY PANELTHE NINE-man panel which will head Cumbria's foot and mouth inquiry includes one of the county's strongest supporters of vaccination during the crisis. Professor Derek Ellwood was one of the first experts in Britain to call for "firebreak" vaccination to stop the spread of FMD. He claimed at the start of April last year that the disease was already out of control in Cumbria, urging a "jab and mark" strategy that would have seen animals injected with vaccine but not later slaughtered.
Professor Ellwood, a former director of the Westlakes Research Institute near Whitehaven, was one of nine people chosen to oversee the local inquiry. They were chosen by the man who will chair the proceedings, Scottish ex-academic and consultant Professor Phil Thomas from a list of 40 nominations.
The panel members are: Howard Christie - owner of the Wasdale Inn at Wastwater and active in the local tourist industry. Jan Darrell - environmental academic and currently policy officer with Friends of the Lake District. David Etherden - Keswick businessman particularly in the field of leisure. John Hetherington - a retired farmer from Wigton and former vice principal of Newton Rigg Agricultural College. Andrew Humphries - former assistant director of Newton Rigg Agricultural College and currently a farm business adviser through Farmlink. Nicholas Gent - former Director of Public Health for Morecambe Bay Health Authority. Philip Hancock - a partner in Penrith-based agricultural supplies firm Jim Peet Agriculture. Canon Geoffrey Ravalde - Vicar of Wigton, former Rural Dean of Carlisle and a former barrister. The inquiry will hear evidence in Kendal from May 7 to May 10 and in Carlisle from the May 28 to May 31.
It will also spend another two to three days in local communities.
The inquiry itself will focus on the outbreak and control issues; advice, communication and local/central relations; organisation capacity issues; impacts on the wider Cumbrian economy and recovery and regeneration. Findings and conclusions will be reported back to the county council on July 25.
The inquiry hearings in Kendal and Carlisle will be broadcast live via the Internet by BBC Radio Cumbria.
April 27 2002
EURO FMD TEAM DIDN'T GET FULL FACTSFARMING leaders fear a delegation of MEPs will not have been given a full picture of how foot and mouth hit Cumbria on their flying visit to the region last week. NFU Cumbria policy adviser Veronica Waller said they felt the visit by the European Parliament's foot-and-mouth committee was not long enough for them to get the full facts.
"We welcome the fact that we were able to give them the first-hand personal experiences from both culled-out farmers and those that kept their stock, but we feel the visit was far too short to get over in sufficient detail the lessons to be learned from Cumbria's FMD experience," said Ms Waller.
Ms Waller said she hoped the EU team would take evidence from Cumbria's own foot and mouth inquiry, which begins early next month, into account before drawing its own conclusions. The 40-strong squad, made up of MEPs from around Europe, toured Longtown auction mart and the burial site at Great Orton and held a public meeting in Gretna with farmers and business people as part of their four-day fact-finding mission.
They also met tourism and business people in Carlisle and Kendal, as well as visiting the farm of Peter Holliday at Dalston, a dairy farmer culled out in late March.
posted April 27 2002
What we need is a people's question time, Mr Blair27 April 2002
Tony Blair has paid less attention to the House of Commons than any Prime Minister before him, mainly because he can. Indeed, with a majority of 179, reduced last year to 167, he can afford to take a more nonchalant view of the tut-tuttings of constitutional theorists than he has.
Instead, he has tried to persuade us - and his backbench MPs - that he takes his accountability to the representatives of the people seriously.
Despite cutting his appearances for Prime Minister's Questions to once a week, his office produces statistics showing that he spends at least as much time on his feet in the Chamber, making statements and answering questions, as his immediate predecessors. Yet he hardly ever takes part in Commons votes, and his forays into the Members' Tearoom have become choreographed events.
This is part of a wider failing of accountability, which is that PM's Questions - important though it is - has some obvious drawbacks as a means of re-connecting with the people. The ritual nature of the exchanges puts many people off politics, while the tone and the format make it difficult to pursue a line of enquiry beyond a rhetorical flourish. When Mr Blair unilaterally changed the format at the start of his premiership, he promised he would also appear regularly at "people's question time" sessions to answer questions from members of the public. That has not happened, although when he does appear in such forums, mostly for television programmes, the results are often enlightening. The Prime Minister should revive that idea.
In the meantime, yesterday's surprise proposal that he should submit himself twice-yearly to detailed questioning by the chairmen of Commons select committees is an excellent step in the right direction. These are MPs who, although clearly of their party, often rise above point-scoring and speak on behalf of the wider public interest. Of course, this is a small reform which does not go nearly far enough in redressing the balance of power between executive and legislature, but the Prime Minister deserves praise for taking this step.
April 27 2002
Farming reforms not thorough, says CurryBy Ben Russell Political Correspondent 27 April 2002 Ministers are dragging their feet over the reform of Britain's ailing farming industry, the chairman of the first inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis said yesterday. Sir Donald Curry, who chaired the Policy Commission on the future of farming and food, warned that too little is being done to implement the recommendations of his report, published in January. The document recommended a shift away from production subsidies towards payments to farmers as stewards of the rural environment.
The changes would cost an estimated £500m over three years, but there was no mention of additional support in last week's budget. Yesterday Sir Donald told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: "To be fair we didn't expect major statements in the Budget." He said that he would wait for the Chancellor's Comprehensive Spending Review, due to be announced in July. But he attacked ministers for failing to implement detailed recommendations in his report, which he said would not have major implications for public spending.
"If the Government fails to take this opportunity we will have a farming and food industry in crisis and becoming ever more uncompetitive," he said. He accused the Government of "cherry-picking" policies. He said: "A piecemeal approach, a cherry-picking approach to this report will not work. It is a whole. If we only adopt the easy bits of this report we will not move forward, we will not achieve the change that is necessary." Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said ministers were not expecting a funding announcement in last weeks' Budget.
* Farmers' leaders yesterday welcomed the decision of a committee of Euro MPs to visit one of the areas worst hit by foot and mouth. Members of the European Parliament's committee of inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak made their first visit to Devon Anthony Gibson, the National Farmers Union's south-west regional director, said: "It was a very useful exchange. They were able to talk to farmers in the front line of foot-and-mouth, including those who had cattle slaughtered or suffered dislocation or financial loss.
April 27 2002
EFFORTS TO CONTROL FMD ATTACKEDJOE WATSON
Press and Journal
The deep cuts in staffing at the State Veterinary Service were responsible for some of the difficulties in bringing the UK's foot and mouth epidemic under control last year, a European Parliament committee said yesterday. The 22-strong special committee on foot and mouth, who visited the disease hotspots in Cumbria, Northumberland and Dumfries and Galloway last week, also praised Scottish officials for devolving control to help speed up eradication. They, however, criticised the policy in England where the disease "galloped out of control". The MEPs said it had quickly become clear during their visit that a key factor in the UK's difficulties in bringing the epidemic under control was the depletion of the State Veterinary Service. The number of full-time Government vets had over the last 21 years fallen from 564 to 235.
The committee is to compare the UK figures with the situation elsewhere in Europe.
The committee added: "Another clear lesson from the UK's experience was that the disease can be handled much more effectively at local and regional level than from central government.
....... The committee also said that serious consideration must be given to a Europe-wide policy on using vaccination to control the disease in any future outbreak.
........ It is expected Mr Kreissl-Dorfler's report will also call for an international strategy on combating foot and mouth.
The committee, which is made up of MEPs representing all the main political groups, also said there had been considerable confusion on the ground in the UK about the provisions of EU legislation on vaccination and culling and its interpretation. During their visit last week, the MEPs visited farms near Carlisle and Hexham, as well as the Longtown and Hexham marts at the centre of the epidemic, and visited Great Orton Airfield, where nearly half a million animals are buried. They heard harrowing first-hand accounts of the devastation wrought by the epidemic.
......... Committee chairman Encarnacion Redondo Jiminez, of Spain, said the depth of human misery and emotional suffering caused by the epidemic was an essential aspect of the crisis and would not overlooked in the committee's conclusions. The committee is expected later this year to make various recommendations to the European Commission on how to tackle foot and mouth, and other animal diseases, in the future.
April 26 2002
Sir Donald Curry on why his farming reforms must be wholeheartedly implementedThe government has had 3 months to start implementing the Curry Report. Patrick Holden of the Soil Association says it's understandable that the Treasury is asking tough questions and is right to do that. Donald Curry says that £500,000,000is needed but the main funding was never going to made available through the budget. "We don't need another period of consultation".. another talking shop would be a waste of time."We need to start delivering this new vision. A cherry picking approach to this report will not work. If we only adopt the easy bits of this report we will not move forward."
April 26 2002
AXE FOR FOOT AND MOUTH HELPERS?The future of a vital foot and mouth advice, licensing and investigation team hangs in the balance following fears that its funding may be withdrawn.
This is Cornwall
Devon County Council is urgently seeking an assurance from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that Government funding will be continued for the team operated by the Trading Standards Service.
The council says the team is essential if it is to continue to support the farming community by giving advice on foot and mouth controls, monitoring livestock movements and investigating evidence of illegal movements.
The 12-strong team are what remains of the temporary staff specially recruited by the county council last autumn - with Defra's agreement and promised funding - to help police vital national controls aimed at ensuring foot and mouth does not devastate the country again.
But this Friday their current contracts will expire and so far Defra's London headquarters have only committed themselves to funding a further month's employment.
April 26 2002
Godson of the Queen gives up farmingBy David Sapsted (Filed: 26/04/2002)
THE crisis in agriculture is forcing one of the country's best-known families to quit the land it has farmed for more than five centuries.
Michael-John Knatchbull, a godson of the Queen and grandson of the late Earl Mountbatten of Burma, has announced with "deep regret" that he is to give up the 2,000 acres near Ashford, Kent, that has been farmed by the family since 1485.
He put the blame on poor markets and "a government who don't care about farmers and the countryside".
April 26 2002
April 26 2002
Farmers spread disease, says rural affairs MPBy Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent
FARMERS leaders were "shocked and concerned yesterday" after the vice-chairman of the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee blamed farmers for causing and deliberately spreading last year's foot and mouth outbreak.
David Drew, the chairman of the Labour Group of Rural MPs, made the allegations in a letter to a leading landowner in his constituency of Stroud, Glos.
The letter was condemned last night as "deeply offensive to all farmers" and betraying "ignorance as well as prejudice" of rural affairs among Labour MPs.
John Berkeley, a Deputy Lieutenant of Gloucestershire who lives at Berkeley Castle, his ancestral home, said he had written to Mr Drew to call for a public inquiry into the foot and mouth crisis.
"I suffered severely, both emotionally and financially, when 11 of my tenants lost their herds to foot and mouth and I had to close Berkeley Castle to tourists," he said. "But I was shocked by the reply I received from David Drew. It was brutal in tone and content."
In a letter written on April 12 from the House of Commons and leaked to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Drew conceded that there should have been a full inquiry. But he added that it should "look at all the factors that caused foot and mouth including poor husbandry, over-intensive methods and deliberate spreading of the disease".
He wrote: "Government may not have got everything right, but the industry has much to answer for. The problems of farming are deep seated and some are self-inflicted. Foot and mouth is just the latest problem that has been visited upon an industry in desperate need of reform."
Mr Drew - who claims on his website that he "is well known for his support of farming and farmers" - alleged at the end of the letter that farmers made fraudulent use of EU production and environmental payment schemes.
The MP said yesterday that he stood by every comment made in his letter. "I do not think it is insensitive. The outbreak took place on the scale that it did because of the sheep subsidy and the way that farmers exploited it."
He also alleged that the spread of the disease was further increased because "a small number of dealers held out in getting their animals slaughtered quickly, quibbling over payments and conditions". He said: "The nature of what was going on among farmers helped spread the disease."
The National Farmers' Union said last night that it was "very surprised and concerned" by Mr Drew's comments. Richard Macdonald, the director general, said: "We will be speaking to him as a matter of urgency, particularly as he holds the position of vice-chair of the EFRA committee."
Peter Ainsworth, the Conservative shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary, said the letter was "deeply offensive to all farmers. It is a letter that betrays ignorance as well as prejudice.
"It lifts the lid on what many people have thought were Labour's true feelings about farmers. That this letter comes from someone with so much influence over rural policies is particularly worrying."
April 26 2002
Blair on defensive over law and orderJason Beattie Chief Political Correspondent
TONY Blair yesterday struggled to regain the law and order initiative after he made a surprise promise to control violent street crime within five months and said he is now holding crime meetings in the room for national emergencies.
The Prime Minister, who is facing a Labour defeat in several towns in next weeks local government elections, said he would get on top of street crime by September - but failed to explain what this promise actually involves. The Conservatives seized on his admission that he is convening crime meetings in COBRA, a Cabinet Office room safe from nuclear attack, which has been used to discuss the aftermath of the 11 September attacks and the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, wrote to Mr Blair asking if he was formally conceding that crime in England now qualifies as a national emergency - an admission which would greatly help the Tories as they fight marginal seats.
In the run up to the English elections on 2 May, Labour researchers have found crime was the issue on which the government was most vulnerable. Asylum was also found to be another weak spot, especially in towns with a high percentage of ethnic minorities. In what looked like a calculated move to regain the law and order agenda, Mr Blair told parliament that violent crime on Englands streets would be brought "under control" by September.
April 25 2002
FOOT AND MOUTH BATTLE BEGINSWestcountry businesses which suffered losses at the hands of foot and mouth were still being urged to come forward yesterday as the legal battle to recover losses from the Government kicked off.
This is Cornwall
Lawyers representing around 2,500 people have delivered a letter to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs saying they intend to sue for damages.
Tom Griffith-Jones, the Westcountry representative for the UK Rural Business Campaign which represents those who are claiming, said last night: "The message we have to get across is that now is the time to come out.
"Every business that's been affected - and I can't think of a businesses that hasn't been affected in some form or another - should come forward and claim for the loss of income they have suffered."
...Mr Griffith-Jones said that in just one day he had received more than 30 calls on the matter.
"Most of the calls were from people who wanted to get behind the whole thing," he said, adding that the recent Western Morning News coverage of the campaign had helped enormously to highlight the need for people to come forward, and some people had distributed copies of the article to give the issue further publicity....
April 24 2002
BSE ban on older meat may be liftedTOUGH BSE controls on British beef could be relaxed if there are no risks to human health. Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, announced yesterday that he had ordered a review of the stringent BSE rules which govern all beef production in the United Kingdom. He wants to know whether it is still necessary to ban cattle aged over 30 months from the food chain to protect public health.
Britain is the only country in Europe, at present, which prevents anyone eating this older beef. The control was introduced in March 1996 to restore confidence in British beef at home and abroad.
Farmers and the meat industry are now keen to recapture this lost market, which has an estimated value of £450 million, and to sell the meat for human consumption. They cannot act, however, without the scientific all-clear that this beef is safe to eat.
April 24 2002
Carey defends English patriotismBy P J Bonthrone
THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, declared patriotism last night to be "a positive thing" and defended the Church of England's link with the State. In a St George's Day lecture, Dr Carey said: "Patriotism, a measured pride in the values, achievements and aspirations of a culture and society, seems to me to be a positive thing." The Archbishop, who retires on Oct 31, said that England's patron saint had received an "unfair press" in recent years.
But he added: "I am no friend of the 'little Englander' mentality, nor of the kind of nationalistic fervour that can all too easily be tinged with jingoism and xenophobia." In a speech to an invited audience at Lambeth Palace, Dr Carey championed the Church's role as England's established church, which gives it both a place in government through the 26 Lords Spiritual and a role at the heart of national life. "Establishment helps to underwrite the commitment of a national church to serve the entire community and to give form and substance to some of its deepest collective needs and aspirations."
The Church, he said, was uniquely placed to "hold things together, root and branch, in the service of God and of humanity".
Referring to the Church of England as "the biggest voluntary organisation in the country", the Archbishop said that its network of 13,000 parishes and more than 10,000 clergy gave it "a special capacity to respond to widely felt needs and fears at times of tragedy and national mourning". He said the Church's response to the foot and mouth crisis, the terrorist events of September 11 in America and the recent royal bereavements, reflected that role and expectation.......
April 24 2002
Legislators need lesson in real rural prioritiesAllan Murray director, Countryside Alliance Scotland
SO WHAT is the agenda of rural Scotland? It appears to some people to be the cause of some dispute or, at least, debate. For the vast majority of people in the countryside the fact that their interests and priorities are up for revaluation will be of some surprise to them. Nevertheless, I'm convinced they will be glad of this interest. Better to be talked about than ignored, after all. Fordyce Maxwell made the point that the issue of fox-hunting had become an obsession which had hijacked the countryside debate and relegated other, more relevant, issues to obscurity. To a large extent he is right and that this "obsession", by the government, the Scottish Executive and the media had given the public the impression that the abolition of hunting would mean the end of rural life as we know it.
Large areas of Scotland will indeed be unaffected by a ban on hunting with dogs which will come into force from August in Scotland. But for a significant number of people, particularly in the Borders, it will mean the end of a hitherto law-abiding way of life.
The real problem for the country folk and the organisations that represent them is that in the last few years an increasing level of resources has had to be used to defend the interests of people involved in hunting. It is an issue on which we have been forced to stand and fight to protect the rights and livelihoods of people who wished no more than to go about their business in peace. All of us who live or work in the countryside know only too well there is a broad range of issues that affect the lives of rural people. Many of these are everyday concerns we share with people living in urban areas such as health, education, transport and crime. Naturally, we all want better hospitals, schools, buses and trains.
No-one needs to be reminded of the appalling consequences of foot-and-mouth. The effects on farming, tourism and rural business are still being felt acutely. Agriculture and food, land reform, the environment and conservation, the future of farming - the list of crucial countryside issues goes on.
I do take issue with Fordyce Maxwell's contention that the Countryside Alliance is wasting its time planning a "summer of discontent" in England and Wales about threatened anti-hunting legislation there. There are thousands of people who would be affected by such legislation, and it is their right to protest. What are they to do? Stand by and watch their jobs and homes taken away ?
The vast majority of people in rural Scotland would be delighted if we could devote their efforts and resources into matters other than fox-hunting. I only wish that people elected to serve us in the Scottish and Westminster parliaments could see it that way. Were their minds focused on the real agenda of rural Scotland when they weren't debating fox-hunting? No. Next up was fur farming, which doesn't even take place in Scotland.
I do not suggest that everything the rural affairs department of the Scottish Executive does is wrong, just the opposite. Take, for example, the forward strategy paper for Scottish agriculture and the excellent work it did to control the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
But legislation affecting rural areas has been hijacked by people unwilling to see beyond their own prejudices. The Scottish parliament's decision to ignore its own expert committee was the most striking example of that on the Watson bill. I do not believe there would be much dispute between country folk as to what their priorities are.
I only wish that politicians would make rural Scotland's priorities their priorities.
April 24 2002
British firms crippled by foot-and-mouth crisis to fight for compensationLONDON (AP) - Rural businesses crippled by last year's foot-and-mouth crisis are going to sue the government for $1.4 billion US in compensation, lawyers said Monday. The businesses claim the government ignored opportunities to detect the disease and halt its spread throughout Britain. Lawyers representing around 2,500 people delivered a letter to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Friday saying they intend to sue for damages.
They are also seeking a public inquiry and the establishment of safeguards to ensure an outbreak on a similar scale never happens again.
posted April 23 02
Rural firms begin legal fight for foot-and-mouth damagesRural businesses affected by the foot-and-mouth crisis are launching their legal fight for £1 billion compensation from the Government. Lawyers representing around 2,500 people is delivering a letter to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) saying they intend to sue for damages. They are also seeking a public inquiry and the establishment of safeguards to ensure an outbreak on a similar scale never happens again. The letter is sent on behalf of the UK Rural Business Campaign (UKRBC), which represents the alleged victims, by their lawyers, Class Law.
It claims officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now Defra, ignored opportunities to pick up on the disease. These include a number of possible incidents of foot-and-mouth in late January and early February, before the official notification on February 19, 2001. It alleges they also failed to stop all movement of animals for four days after the announcement.
The letter also adds the Government had made preparations in anticipation of an outbreak from at least November 2000, when it claims MAFF officials telephoned a timber merchant to ask if he could supply firewood if there was a foot-and-mouth outbreak. "The evidence that our clients have uncovered so far indicates that the Department (MAFF) were negligent in relation to both the detection and also the control of the disease," the letter reads. "The reality is that the Department ignored obvious signs of the disease prior to the official confirmation of it. Had they not done so, the disease could have been prevented or at least contained as it was in France."
Stephen Alexander, of Class Law, said: "It is time for answers. The Government has a duty to at least respond. This is a straightforward matter of political negligence and an abdication of responsibility; it will no doubt end in the High Court."
posted April 23 02
Rural Businesses Sue British Gov'tBy Jane Wardell
LONDON - Rural businesses crippled by last year's foot-and-mouth crisis are going to sue the government for $1.4 billion in compensation, lawyers said Monday. The businesses claim the government ignored opportunities to detect the disease and halt its spread throughout Britain.
Lawyers representing around 2,500 people delivered a letter to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Friday saying they intend to sue for damages. They are also seeking a public inquiry and the establishment of safeguards to ensure an outbreak on a similar scale never happens again...
Class Law has said that it intends to ask the government to exhume the carcasses of cows buried in October 2000 four months before the first case of foot-and-mouth was detected. The firm believes the cows could show signs of the disease which, if confirmed, would strengthen its case that the government failed to respond adequately. It decided on the $1.4 billion figure based on estimated lost profits for businesses hit by the virtual closure of the countryside. A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government had a duty to control major animal diseases but had no obligation to provide compensation for outbreaks of foot-and-mouth. ''There are no plans to introduce such payments,'' she said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. ''The government cannot be the insurer of last resort and it cannot pay for all losses related to the outbreak.''
posted April 23 02
Re: Stealing a marchDate: 22 April 2002
SIR - With the Countryside Alliance preparing for a protest march through London on September 22, what are the odds on foot and mouth returning by the end of August?
From: Tom Morris, Taunton
April 22 02
Controversial GM crop vandalised in HighlandsJAMES REYNOLDS
A FIELD of genetically modified crops which has provoked a storm of protest in the Highlands has been vandalised, police said last night. The Northern Constabulary said about five acres of GM oilseed rape was destroyed on Saturday night at Roskill Farm, Munlochy, on the Black Isle in Easter Ross.
The site has been the focus of campaigners' simmering anger since it was first earmarked for GM crop trials by the seed company Aventis in August 2000. Police said they were investigating the matter and appealed for any witnesses to come forward. The incident comes only days after a Scottish parliamentary committee called for the crop trial, which had just started to flower, to be ploughed up.
A total of 4,000 protesters based on the Black Isle handed a petition to the transport and environment committee expressing their opposition to the crop trial. A meeting of the parliamentary committee on Wednesday of last week voted five to four in favour of a motion, proposed by Robin Harper, the Green MSP, calling for an end to the trial.
April 22 02
EURO TEAM(19 April)
THE EYES of Europe focused on Tynedale this week as Euro MPs came to the district to study the causes and effects of last year's devastating foot-and-mouth epidemic. The temporary committee investigating the disease visited the district on Wednesday for a three-day investigation covering the North of England and Scottish borders. Their investigations started at De Vere Slaley Hall on Wednesday, where invited guests were given an opportunity to present evidence to the committee.
Today, the committee will visit Bill Aynsley's Whiteside Law Farm at Hallington, near Corbridge, which was hit by foot-and-mouth, and will speak with the farmers concerned about how the outbreak was handled.
The farm visit will be followed by a meeting at Hexham Auction Mart, where committee members will have an opportunity to get a variety of perspectives on the scourge from local farmers, NFU representatives, tourism operators and people involved in local businesses.
Among the people on the committee is North-East MEP Martin Callanan, who said: "The European Temporary Committee for foot-and-mouth disease has come to the North East because it was one of the worst affected areas. "Rather than just sitting in Brussels, I was keen to come to England, and the North East, to hear what people in the communities which were affected had to say. "I think it absolutely disgraceful that the Government has said there will not be a full public inquiry in Britain. "This is what we wanted, but they have gone to some lengths to make sure one does not happen. "Even all the Labour MEPs in Europe voted against having an inquiry. ..... ...
Northumberland County Council held its own public inquiry into the disease earlier this year, which was strongly critical of the way in which the epidemic was handled. There was also general condemnation of the fact that neither Defra nor the Army would give evidence to the tribunal. ......
April 21 2002
Opinion - Western Morning NewsAll of the arrogance, the ignorance and the sheer hypocrisy of the Government during the foot and mouth crisis was epitamised in one sentence from Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett. Her curt dismissal of the findings of the Devon County Council foot and mouth inquiry make it clear that Mrs. Beckett is completely out of touch with the very people she purports to represent in the Cabinet and must resign.
Western Morning News
She said "The report of the committee of Devon County councillors clearly provides a local perspective and reflects local views and conclusions. I am afraid I do not accept those conclusions."
Aside from being a gross insult to Professor Ian Mercer, who chaired the Devon Inquiry, and totally dismissive of many expert witnesses who gave evidence to the hearing, her statement is also abject nonsense.
The Devon inquiry was only "local" in the sense that it was held in Exeter. The matters under discussion - from the likely source of the foot and mouth outbreak to the way it was spread and the impact on farmers, the tourist industry and other rural businesses - accurately reflected the situation nationally.
And Devon only opted to stage its own inquiry, at some expense and with an enormous amount of effort on the part of council staff and others, because the Governments consistently refused to hold a proper inquiry itself. For what Mrs. Beckett and the Prime Minister Tony Blair - must take full responsibility.
Not only that the Government flatly refused to take part in the Devon inquiry and answer the legitimate and important questions which Professor Mercer and his team wanted to put. Only after the inquiry did they issue a statement and belatedly admit to certain errors in the way the foot and mouth cull was conducted in Devon. .....
posted April 21 2002
MEPs call for FMD vaccination planFORDYCE MAXWELL rural affairs editor
A COMMITTEE of MEPs taking evidence on the foot-and-mouth epidemic are giving clear hints that the whole European Union should return to a vaccination policy to control the disease. A report of the committees findings will not be produced until early autumn, to be debated by the European Parliament in November, but during its visit to Northumberland yesterday, its vice-chairman, Caroline Lucas, said: "Vaccination is a key issue. Personally, I think there should have been much more emphasis on it last year.
"The NFU did its members a disservice by not making it clear that there was provision for vaccination and compensation." Lucas, one of the few Green MEPs, said that the temporary committee of inquiry had established from evidence heard in Brussels that the UK epidemic, in which up to 10 million animals were slaughtered on almost 10,000 farms, had been badly handled, with bureaucracy the main problem. That had been emphasised during the past three days when talking to farmers and rural business owners "on the ground" in south-west Scotland, Cumbria and Northumberland.
She said: "It is clear that there should have been much more contingency planning. When the outbreak started, local vets should have been trusted and given much more authority, as in Holland, instead of London trying to control operations. How much was EU law and how much of the problem was Londons interpretation of EU law?" The committees report and recommendations have no legal power but Ms Lucas said: "We think it will have moral power for change." Philip Whitehead, the Labour MEP for the East Midlands, said an action plan was vital because foot-and-mouth would be back: "World trade and people travelling much more make that certain.
"Were not the only country having problems with illegal meat imports. Germany alone has great problems with large numbers of its Turkish work force bringing meat back when they visit their home country. "Well be better prepared for animal disease next time, whether its foot-and-mouth or swine fever, but it will be back."
Wolfgang Kreissl-Dorfler, a German MEP and former farmer, who will write the committees report, said that vaccination had not been possible in the UK last year as the epidemic spread too quickly and too far, but he expected recommendations for a future vaccination policy to be a central part of his report.
He said; "Animals are vaccinated against lots of things. Why not foot-and-mouth?" Malcolm Corbett, chairman of Northumberland NFU during much of the epidemic, was one of the farmers who met the MEPs at Hexham mart yesterday, and supported "vaccination next time". He said: "It was not possible last year, but we vaccinate animals to try to prevent a wide range of diseases, so why not foot-and-mouth?
"The proviso is that any policy, for vaccination or much better control of legal and illegal meat imports must be EU-wide."
posted April 21 2002
Visit of European committee criticisedThe European committee inquiring into the foot and mouth outbreak arrived in Cumbria on Thursday amidst allegations that the visit was too short, the party was not stopping at the disease "hot spots" and ordinary farmers were not being given enough chance to speak.
From the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald
The delegation of MEPs from the European Parliament's temporary committee on foot and mouth disease arrived in Newcastle on Wednesday to spend just three days visiting Northumberland, southern Scotland and Cumbria. The party spent about four hours at Longtown mart on Thursday before heading north to Gretna for the visit's only scheduled public meeting, which was due to last about two and a half hours. However, a considerable portion of this time was given over to invited "expert" speakers.
Friday's itinery included visits to Hexham mart, Hadrian's Wall, the Great Orton airfield burial site and the Shepherd's Inn, Carlisle. A number of farms were also visited and the delegation's trip was due to end this morning at the Castle Green Hotel, Kendal, for discussion on the effects of the crisis on the tourism industry. The itinery did not include any meetings or farm visits in the Eden area. Former Cumbria NFU chairman Chris Woods, of Newby, said: "All they seem to be doing is running around the countryside - they should have come to Penrith and Appleby areas where things really went wrong. Also, I understand the people invited to these meetings were allowed to take a guest, but the guests were not allowed to speak. What's the point of that?" He added: "I'm told that most of the committee members don't speak English, which doesn't help."
There was also criticism of the organisation of the visit, by the Green Party, even though its MEP for South East England, Dr Caroline Lucas, is vice-President of the Inquiry team. She was said to be feeling "deeply frustrated" that her efforts to ensure the public got the right to speak had been "obstructed at every turn".
North West Green Party spokesman Vanessa Hall said: " What kind of public inquiry would seek to hinder public involvement like this? This is an extremely important issue in which many farmers and others in the North West feel they've been trampled on." She added: " It's completely wrong of Labour politicians to try and muzzle and nobble the inquiry." ......
posted April 21 2002
Booker's NotenbookLast week I challenged agriculture minister Lord Whitty's claim to MEPs that the controversial 'contiguous cull', under which millions of healthy animals were killed during last year's foot-and-mouth catatstrophe, had been upheld by the courts. On Wednesday three peers, Lord Monro of Langholm, Lord Onslow and the Countess of Mar, asked Whitty to substantiate his claim. His reply was that the cull was upheld in two cases known as Winslade and Westerhall. "The legality of the cull is not in doubt". When I read this to a senior lawyer involved in the battle over the cull, he was incredulous (his exact word was 'b******s!").
April 21 2002
Private water supplies 'E.coli risk'The water supplies to whole villages could be at risk Four out of five private water supplies in the UK fail to meet EU drinking standards and put more than half a million people at risk of E.coli, a BBC investigation has found.
April 21 2002
Minister pledge on virus reportFOOD and farming minister Lord Whitty has pledged that findings from the government's foot-and-mouth inquiries will be made public. In a letter to the Daily Express, the minister said reports from the Lessons Learned and Royal Society inquiries will be published.
National trust gave evidence on Friday to LLI. FWi reports:
It will .... highlight the lack of an effective contingency plan, a failure to seriously consider targeted "ring fence" vaccination and a shortage of staff as major problems.
posted April 20 2002
EURO INQUIRY TEAM MEETS F&M VICTIMSA HIGH-POWERED delegation of MEPs visiting Cumbria as part of a foot and mouth inquiry said last night that it was too early to draw any conclusions from their four-day fact-finding mission. The 40-strong squad from the European Parliament's agriculture committee toured Longtown auction mart and held a public meeting in Gretna with farmers and business people as part of their trip to the region. Last night, tourism and business people met the team in the Shepherd's Inn, Rosehill, Carlisle, before they completed their trip with a visit to Kendal this morning.
Cumberland news and Star
Wolfgang Kreissl-Dorfler said their main objective was to come up with recommendations for future handling of the disease but that it was too early to draw any firm conclusions from their visit. He revealed that the panel had earlier put questions to the British Government about why non-veterinary epidemiologists were used to predict the spread of the disease. "We have asked for a written answer to that question," he said. ....
April 20 2002
Cattle TB Fears 'Unfounded'The Government has played down claims that an outbreak in Wales of tuberculosis in cattle could be as serious as the foot and mouth epidemic. Ten animals have been destroyed on a farm near Denbigh and tests are under way on 50 other farms. The Farmers Union of Wales has said its members are worried the disease could spiral out of control. But animal health minister Elliot Morley said the statement, made by a Welsh vet, was misleading and that TB in cattle was confined to a small percentage of the UK national herd.
Mr Morley said TB in cattle, which a report yesterday suggested could lie dormant in fields for up to four months, was "entirely different" from foot-and-mouth and comparisons were "unhelpful". The Government spent up to £45m-a-year combating TB in cattle between 1999 and last year was not complacent about the problem, he added.
Earlier, the Welsh Assembly confirmed that between January 1 and March 31 this year, there were 779 positive skin tests for bovine TB and the cattle were slaughtered as a precaution. They were among 130 herds, which represents a large rise in cases compared with the same period two years ago.
April 20 2002
GOVERNMENT CANNOT DITHER OVER BOVINE TB - BRUCE
Statement on bovine TB by Animal Health Minister Elliot MorleyAnimal Health Minister Elliot Morley described the statement by a Welsh vet that the TB outbreak could be "as serious, if not more serious" than Foot and Mouth Disease as misleading.
Mr Morley said TB in cattle was confined to a small percentage of the UK national herd and was an entirely different disease to foot and mouth. He stressed the Government was not complacent about the problem of TB and that vets were giving high priority to reducing the backlog of herds with outstanding TB tests.
Up to £45m a year was spent covering all aspects of bovine TB during 1999, 2000 and 2001. "People should be very cautious about drawing comparisons about the rate of TB from the current figures because we are prioritising the testing of herds to concentrate on those where there is a higher risk that the disease is present." "The results are inevitably distorted and may look worse than they actually are," he said. It is unhelpful to compare the bovine TB organism with foot and mouth disease virus. Whilst both organisms are infectious, foot and mouth disease virus is highly contagious and rapidly spreads within and between herds, whereas both the spread of Mycobacterium bovis infection and development of disease are much slower and for many years has been confined to limited areas of the country.
April 20 2002
Bovine TB 'worse than foot-and-mouth'By Ian Herbert, North of England Correspondent 20 April 2002 A senior government vet suggested yesterday that bovine tuberculosis could be more disastrous for the farming industry than foot-and-mouth.Two new outbreaks in Wales took the number of infected cattle culled there to more than 800, more than five times the figure for the whole of the last recorded year.
Ten beef cattle at a farm near Denbigh in north Wales - an area previously clear of TB - were destroyed on Thursday and tests are under way at 50 farms in Dyfed. The cases come on top of those confirmed in 130 herds across Wales in the first two months of this year - leading to the slaughter of more than 800 cattle, compared with 150 cases in 2000.
Farmers have been warning about the disease for months amid delays over the controversial strategy of badger culling, based on scientific research conducted five years ago which stated badgers may harbour the bacterium that causes bovine TB.
The cull, delayed by foot-and-mouth is now being established in 10 regions of the UK where 12,500 badgers will be exterminated to see if the relationship exists. It is a contentious tactic since research earlier this year found that the genome of the organism that causes bovine TB is 99.9 per cent identical to that which causes the disease in humans - and that badgers may not be culpable. The veterinary service in Wales is recruiting an extra 25 staff to stem the outbreak, amid signs it is moving from its traditional seats in Gwent and Dyfed. A north Wales veterinary manager, David Pugh, said the situation could be "as serious, if not more serious" than foot-and-mouth while the chief veterinary officer for Wales, Tony Edwards, agreed with claims by farmers that TB testing programmes had slipped because of demands on manpower during foot-and-mouth.
As herds on farms neighbouring the infected cattle in Denbigh were tested yesterday Mr Pugh warned farmers to take precautions and seek tests for any new stock. The disease is not as infectious as foot-and-mouth and only cattle diagnosed with it are culled.
Farming unions are on high alert, a week after the Farmers' Union of Wales warned about the disease. The Denbighshire and Flintshire officer, Sian Llwyd, said: "It seems we're coming out of one disaster and straight into another." Unions said they feared annual cases in Wales could leap to 4,000 and cost the economy £200m. The Welsh Assembly is now drawing up an interim strategy and introducing an improved blood test procedure.
April 20 2002
A comic play on words in a rural sittingSimon Hoggart
"We are consulting on the sheep envelope in remote rural areas," said Elliot Morley, who's minister for stuff in the ministry of rural stuff, or whatever they call it now. The sheep envelope? For heaven's sake, what's that? Is it like a gigantic Jiffy bag? "If you think your ewes might have foot and mouth, just pop them into this reply-paid envelope and mail it to the ministry, if you can find a postbox big enough"?
Every time I go to see questions on rural affairs, they have more of this jargon. And it's all different. They do their turn once a month, and every four weeks they come up with language which nobody has ever heard before.
It must be like a script conference for the Morecambe and Wise show. "I know, why don't we have a question on 'the economic appraisal of the effect on UK agriculture of modulation proposals'?" "Yeah, love it, love it! And then we could have Tory backbencher Michael Jack ask, 'Who are the winners and who are the losers in the modulation steaks?' 'Steaks', 'stakes', geddit? That'll have them rolling in the silos!" "Yeah, and then we can get them to tell the minister not to 'go the whole hog down this route'!"
Then you get Elliot "Bring Me Sunshine" Morley back to talk about the problems of "rural-proofing". This seems to have something to do with "grazing regimes". No one knows what these are. Maybe they're military juntas whose members eat a lot of snacks.
"Generalissimo! The traitor Ainsworth has been discovered in the act of stuffing sheep envelopes with drugs, used twenties and copies of the Daily Mail. Permission to have him tortured!" "Mmmff, shorry, my mouthsh full at the mumment ... "
My mind drifted and I began to devise a banquet entirely composed of MPs. It would be a lavish Alan Meale (Lab, Mansfield). You could start with a seafood starter of Alex Salmond (SNP, Banff and Buchan) and Marion Roe (C, Broxbourne). The gourmet Robin Cook (Lab, Livingstone) would then offer you a choice of main courses, including Norman Lamb (LD, Norfolk N), David Kidney (Lab, Stafford) or John Baron (C, Billericay) of beef, served with a garnish of Jack Straw (Lab, Blackburn) potatoes. Fans of Indian food might enjoy a David Curry (Skipton and Ripon). Then a dessert of Mark Oaten (LD, Winchester) biscuits topped with John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) syrup could be washed down with a cup of Ann Coffey (Lab, Stockport). Delicious! At your local Happy Eater now!
Stop it, stop it! I woke up to hear my friend Anne McIntosh (C, Vale of York) ask a question about the "European Wee directive". Again, the jargon makes the mind begin to spin. Surely this is childish. Are the Tories really claiming that the EU is telling us how to micturate?
No, she meant the directive on Waste Electronic Equipment. Apparently this now has to be disposed of at huge expense. Already people are bringing the squalor of city streets to the countryside and dumping old microwave ovens and stereos on farm land. Then the farmers have to pay to take them away.
And fridges! Parliament is now obsessed with the menace of fridges, which have to be stripped of contaminating chemicals before they can be re-sold to third world countries. This means they will be dumped, also flaunting the Wee directive.
Back in January Michael Meacher, the environment minister, blamed the EU for the fact that we had done almost nothing to prepare for these new rules. It turns out it was all the fault of his department. His boss, Margaret Beckett, explained why he had, hmm, misled the House. "He did withdraw from the more, er, um, high-flown language he had used ... "
Or as children put it, "Liar, liar, pants on fire!"
April 19 2002
INSURERS FIRST TO COVER HERDS AGAINST FMDA CARLISLE-based insurance broker is believed to be the first in the country to offer whole-herd foot and mouth insurance. Borderway Insurance Brokers is initially offering the whole-herd cover to existing clients in Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway and Northumberland.
However, subject to demand, the company, a subsidiary of Harrison & Hetherington Group, will be offering cover to non-clients who register after April 26. The cover can also include brucellosis and TB insurance. Borderway Insurance Brokers director Kevin Coulthard said: "We're not aware of any other brokers in the country who are currently able to offer foot and mouth insurance on a whole-herd basis. Until now, we have only been able to offer cover on individual animals bought at pedigree sales through Harrison & Hetherington."
Before last year, because there had been no incidence of the disease for many years, few livestock farmers took out foot and mouth insurance. "During the crisis all cover was withdrawn for new business with only existing policies renewed," Mr Coulthard added. He said they understood that other insurance companies would not be following in their footsteps until at least the middle of the year. "We are pleased to be able to provide this early opportunity for farmers to cover themselves against losses due to the disease," he said. .....
April 19 2002
MEP INQUIRY TEAM MEET THE PEOPLEA HIGH-POWERED delegation of visiting MEPs has been told that Maff was to blame for the outbreak of foot and mouth in Cumbria. Longtown mart chairman Tucker Armstrong said that if all livestock movements had been halted earlier, infected sheep from Northumberland would not have passed through the mart in February last year. The MEPs visited the mart, widelday as part of a four-day visit to the North West.
The 40-strong squad from the European Parliament's agriculture committee were in Longtown to hear first-hand experiences from the county's farming community. They were told by Mr Armstrong that the Cumbria & Dumfriesshire Farmers' Mart was the biggest sheep mart in Europe before the disease struck. "It will be two or three years before we can get back to anything like we were before foot and mouth hit," he .
Mr Armstrong described how it took Government officials seven weeks to visit the farms run by staff from Longtown mart. "This was typical of the way the job was done. If all livestock movements had been stopped as soon as foot and mouth was discovered, rather than stopping exports, the two February sales we held would not have gone ahead," he said. "We have been victimised and held up as a scapegoat and it ssential everyone recognises this." .......
April 19 2002
Bovine TB outbreak 'could become worse than foot-and-mouth'Ten beef cattle have been slaughtered at a farm following an outbreak of bovine TB. Experts fear the outbreak could become worse than the foot-and-mouth crisis of last year. The cattle have been culled on a farm at Denbigh, north Wales, and tests are being carried out at 50 farms in Powys, mid Wales.
April 19 2002
400,000 livestock to be tested for BSELegislation is coming into force to increase the number of livestock tested for transmissible diseases such as BSE and scrapie. The new rules incorporate existing European regulations into English law, with separate legislation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
From now on 350,000 cattle a year and 66,000 sheep and goats will be tested as part of efforts to control transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). There will also be tighter controls on the transportation of parts of animals thought most likely to contain disease, mainly spinal cord, and how they can be disposed.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says there were 62 cases of BSE detected in the UK in the year to March 2002, compared with 8,090 in 1996 and 37,056 at its peak in 1992. Most cases were in cattle born before the ban on contaminated feed came into effect in August 1996, but 14 were born after that - 11 in Great Britain and three in Northern Ireland.
The fall in numbers in the UK is in contrast to other parts of Europe which have seen increases in BSE cases. Around 150,000 healthy cattle a year in Britain will now be tested for TSEs.
Tests have been carried out for a number of years on animals who collapse without reason or whose cause of death sparks concern. Just 4,000 were tested in 1999 and 10,000 in 2000, but the number will rise to 200,000 this year.
Some 66,000 sheep and goats will also now be tested under the new rules - an increase of 43,000.
April 19 2002
Worst ever' GM crop invasionBy Charles Clover, Environment Editor in The Hague
THE world's worst case of pollution by genetically-engineered crops has taken place in southern Mexico, the gene bank for maize, one of the world's staple crops, the Mexican government said yesterday.
Findings by Mexican scientists mark a new twist to a story that has provoked a bitter scientific battle on both sides of the Atlantic. Earlier this month Nature, Britain's leading scientific journal, took the extraordinary step of disowning a paper it published in November by David Quist and Ignacio Chapela, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, claiming to prove that genes from GM maize grown in the United States had accidentally crossed into Mexico.
At the time Dr Quist said his research showed the benefits of GM crops "don't outweigh the enormous risks to food security". The paper sparked a protest to Nature by 100 leading biologists. It was also disowned by the Mexican government after their scientists could not repeat the experiment.
Latest tests were carried out by Mexican government scientists in an attempt to settle the controversy, Jorge Soberon, head of the Mexican delegation, told a meeting of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in The Hague. Some 1,876 seedlings from indigenous varieties of maize grown by traditional farmers in the rural southern states of Oaxaca and Puebla were analysed by scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Environment Ministry.
In 95 per cent of the sites surveyed, they found traces of a gene from the cauliflower mosaic virus, used as a promoter to "switch on" insecticidal or herbicidal properties in GM varieties of maize used in the United States. Contamination varied from one to 35 per cent of a farmer's crop, with 10-15 per cent average, showing that GM genes had cross-pollinated at a speed never before predicted in the four years since GM maize entered the country.
Mr Soberon, secretary of the environment ministry's national commission on biodiversity, said: "This is the world's worst case of contamination by genetically modified material because it happened in the place of origin of a major crop. It is confirmed. There is no doubt about it." Philip Campbell, editor of Nature, said: "The Chapela results remain to be confirmed. If the Mexican government has confirmed them, so be it."
April 19 2002
AMPHIBIAN DECLINE: Ubiquitous Herbicide Emasculates FrogsJay Withgott
The most heavily used herbicide in the United States makes hermaphrodites of male frogs at concentrations commonly found in the environment, a new laboratory study reports. Its authors urge looking more closely at the possible role of atrazine and similar pesticides in amphibian declines, although a causal role has yet to be demonstrated. Atrazine is banned in many European countries, and some scientists expect this study to influence the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ongoing assessment of the chemical.
FULL analysis of the 2002 Budget from Farmers Weekly and Grant Thornton
TV star slams tractor logoBy Tom Allen-Stevens
ACTRESS and TV star Joanna Lumley has driven in a red tractor to National Farmers' Union headquarters in London to complain about the Little Red Tractor food label.
The British Farm Standard tractor logo is under fire from animal rights campaigners, who say it guarantees little in terms of animal welfare. Ms Lumley launched a report from the pressure group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) criticising the tractor logo which is supported by the National Farmers' Union. CIWF has also launched a website called Red Tractor Truth which claims that assurance schemes covered by the logo allow farming systems with poor animal welfare. These include narrow farrowing crates for pigs, high stocking densities for broiler chickens, and the use of unsuitable breeds and animal mutilations. The CIWF website is a spoof of the official Little Red Tractor website. CIWF director Joyce D'Silva said: ""The only advice we can give to consumers is to ignore the Little Red Tractor mark completely."
But NFU representative Jonathan Tipples, who sits on the board of Assured Food Standards and helps oversee the tractor logo, defended the label "Let's just remember where CIWF is coming from," he said. "It would rather we did not keep any animals for food production." "We think we operate perfectly acceptable welfare standards and the Farm Animal Welfare Council agrees."
April 18 2002
FARM SCENE: 'E diesel' could give farmers another outlet for cornBy JASON STRAIT The Associated Press 4/17/02 1:37 AM
URBANA, Ill. (AP) -- Mixing the corn in his fields with the diesel powering his tractors has worked so far for farmer Paul Keiser. Now experts are trying to prove it can work for others, too.
University of Illinois researchers are studying an experimental fuel that combines ethanol -- produced from corn -- with diesel. They hope testing of the so-called E diesel at two Illinois farms and in the lab will show the blend is durable, cost-effective and better for the environment than normal diesel.
Keiser, who farms corn and soybeans near Bloomington, noticed little difference between the ethanol blend and normal diesel fuel used in most farm equipment. ....
April 18 2002
SHORTAGE OF BRITISH BEEF HITS THE WESTA lack of beef cattle is starting to hit abattoirs in the South-west, it was revealed yesterday.
This is Gloucestershire
They are running short of animals to process because foot-and-mouth has caused beef production in Britain to slump to an all-time low.
The country is now only 63 per cent selfsufficient, and output has collapsed by more than a quarter......
April 18 2002
Farming 'failing animal welfare standards'Investigation reveals that tractor logo promise to consumers appears on food produced in 'dreadful conditions' The little red tractor logo on British meat is attacked as deliberately misleading and worthless today in a report from an animal welfare group. Compassion in World Farming has conducted an investigation into the standards of welfare allowed by the British "farm assured" schemes and found that some animals were being reared in "dreadful conditions". ...A visit to three assured pig farms uncovered badly hobbled pigs, injured animals uncared for, cramped conditions and aggressive behaviour, and restricted access to a tiny outside area full of slurry....
April 18 2002
The largest display of rare breed farm livestock in Europe has been cancelledfor the second year in a row because of foot-and-mouth disease. Organisers of the National Rare Breeds' Show and Sale said staging the event would be too difficult under rules introduced after last year's outbreak....
posted April 18 2002
Give to saveDate: 18 April 2002
SIR - Last Saturday the fox hunting season came to an end in this lovely part of England. Our Huntsman, Barry Todhunter, walked his hounds up Steel Fell above Grasmere and we followed him on foot. Many visitors joined us and the "craic was good".
Hunters who had not been up to the Lakes for 12 months because of foot and mouth were delighted to be out on the gloriously sunny morning putting the world to rights and talking about Tony Blair's attempt to ban this most sociable of country pursuits.
In the evening there was a real old Cumbrian sing-song in the Twa Dogs Inn in Keswick - a great night. It was decided that the proceeds of the raffle should be donated to the Labour Party - it seems that anyone who donates money to Labour is richly rewarded and our reward would be that we should be allowed to carry on as we have for some 200 years. Hunting with hounds is the best method of controlling vermin that has no known wild enemy and which kills both farmed and domesticated animals. The farmer on whose land we walked had already lost a number of new lambs to the fox and was delighted by our presence. Hunting is also a huge part of the rural infrastructure of this county. Give money to Mr Blair: save our countryside.
John and Ruth Knowles, Keswick, Cumbria
April 18 2002
Scheme is 'reversing harm to environment'It is claimed the harmful effects of intensive farming methods on the countryside are being reversed by encouraging wild animals and plants.
Environment minister Elliot Morley says the improvements are down to the impact of 10 years of the Countryside Stewardship scheme. Under it, farmers are paid to use fewer pesticides and leave uncultivated fields for wild flowers, which in turn encourages insects to breed.
This is a vital food source for once common farmland birds such as the skylark, and populations have increasingly been nesting on untouched pasture. Professor David Bellamy, president of the Conservation Foundation and a guest at the conference, said the stewardship scheme marked "a decade of vision and action that is slowly but surely putting wildflowers and wildlife back into the countryside of England".
Mr Morley said: "We have a lot to celebrate. The return to traditional agricultural principles encouraged by stewardship is now reversing some of the effects of modern farming practices on our rural landscape." He added: "This is a scheme that works for wildlife, for our environmental heritage, and for farmers, and a healthy countryside is only sustainable if we connect these parts of the jigsaw, and find a way forward to benefit them all."
April 18 2002
Brown ignores effects of FMDPASSING references to farming and the countryside in the traditional pre-Budget guessing game agreed on one thing - a Chancellor determined to tackle the massive central issue of national health would pass lightly over the sparsely-populated rural grass.
The guesses were correct, so correct about lack of positive Treasury action that a spokesman for one organisation directly affected was tempted to say, off the record: "This is a non-event." Another wry off-record quote welcomed the revelation that at least the Chancellor had a sense of humour: "At least when we go to the local pub to support England in the World Cup well get 14p a pint off."
Top of the countrysides wish list had been some financial help for small businesses whose incomes were devastated last year, with a knock-on effect into this, by the restrictions of foot-and-mouth. Much has been made of direct compensation to farmers who had their stock slaughtered - compensation paid by the Treasury, with some European Union help, of about £2 billion - but farmers who suffered restrictions without slaughter, tourism and rural businesses suffered huge, uncompensated losses. The Chancellor, quite probably with that £2 billion in mind, made no mention of financial help, tax or rates relief or incentives for any rural struggler. Those determined to make the government cough up must continue the court case which started in London this week if they hope to get anything. Yesterday all the farmers unions could do was tell the Chancellor that he had missed opportunities. .......
April 18 2002
Foot and mouth lawyers allege ministry cover-upPeter Hetherington, regional affairs editor
Lawyers acting for rural businesses devastated by the foot and mouth epidemic are pressing the government to exhume diseased sheep in an attempt to prove that the former Ministry of Agriculture tried to cover up the disease. Allegations that several infected sheep from a farm at Aberdare, in Mid Glamorgan, were buried four months before foot and mouth was officially declared form a central part of a £2bn compensation claim to recover losses sustained during the seven-month outbreak.
In addition lawyers, who will serve the government with notice of their intent to sue for substantial damages this Friday, are claiming that other sheep with foot and mouth - or with antibodies - were found at an abattoir in Staffordshire in January last year along with another big consignment bound for France. The outbreak was officially confirmed at the end of February.
Stephen Alexander, of London solicitors Class Law, who are acting for 25,000 claimants in the UK Rural Business Campaign, said they had evidence that an official from the former Maff told a farmer in Aberdare to bury diseased sheep in October 2000.
He claimed this underlined arguments of a cover-up. "It shows that the disease was in the system and that the government didn't do anything about it and there are other examples ... we are building up evidence that it was around in significant amounts before January." Specialists were on hand to check for signs of foot and mouth in exhumed animals.
With the government refusing to hold a public inquiry into the epidemic, Class Law - who were recently successful in helping Railtrack shareholders force a government u-turn in compensating small investors - are demanding the disclosure of a series of documents, statements and instructions relating to the outbreak from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
If the government refuses, the lawyers will launch an action in the high court at which key officials and ministers blamed for failing to control the outbreak will face allegations of "negligence" and being in breach of their statutory duty.
Class Law believes compensation claims for thousands of affected businesses, mainly non-farming ventures such as hotels and other tourist enterprises, could amount to £2bn. If the government was forced to cave in, the cost of the disease to the taxpayer could be more than doubled. Last December the Treasury said it had already forked out an extra £2.7bn, with up to 10 million animals slaughtered.
The UK Rural Business Campaign has already raised over £2m to fight the government. Val Sinclair, a committee member who runs a pub and restaurant in Shropshire, said last night that many businesses had failed to recover from the impact of the outbreak. With some going bankrupt, others were having to service massive bank loans to keep them going. She had lost up to £100,000. "The countryside is simply not getting back to normal and we are determined to fight for compensation because the government sent out all the wrong signals when the disease struck," she added.
April 17 2002
PUBLIC INQUIRY STILL A POSSIBILITY09:00 - 17 April 2002
Western Morning News
Cash has been provided to fund an appeal against the High Court's decision not to hold a public inquiry into the foot and mouth crisis. Following a hearing in London in February, judges turned down a call on behalf of 15 claimants, including farmers, vets and rural businessmen from Devon and Somerset, who demanded a full public inquiry into the crisis. But an unnamed benefactor has come forward to provide the necessary £10,000 to pay for the application for an appeal, just in time for Friday's deadline. A Law Lord will look at the application early next month and decide whether or not there is a case for an appeal. If the go-ahead is given, the case could be back in court within months. Taunton-based Tim Russ was the instructing solicitor for Richard Lissack QC, who acted for eight of the 15 claimants on a no-win, no-fee basis, during the case.
During the High Court case, the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, acting for the defendant, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the Government's aims of low cost and high speed so that it could deal more effectively with another outbreak had triumphed over calls for a public inquiry. The Westcountry farming community reacted with anger at last month's decision to turn down the call for a full public investigation. If the Court of Appeal gives permission, an appeal would be heard in the High Court in London by three Law Lords. Mr Russ believes that the appeal would be won and there will then be a 50-50 chance of persuading the Law Lords that the Government was wrong not to hold a public inquiry into foot and mouth. However, Mr Russ said that between £50,000 and £250,000 is still needed to fund the case. Anyone who would like to give money towards an appeal should telephone Mr Russ on 01823 445218.
Meanwhile, South West Lib-Dem MEP Graham Watson is to lead a fact-finding trip to his constituency with party members of the European Parliament's foot and mouth committee inquiry. He will be taking East Midlands MEP Nick Clegg and Dutch MEP Jan Mulder to a number of areas in Devon to hear first hand the devastation caused by the outbreak, and the steps now being taken to recover from it. The fact-finding visit on April 26 will include meetings with farmers, businessmen, MPs, councillors and National Farmers' Union representatives.
Mr Watson said: "This is part of a learning process to understand what went wrong last year and what we can learn for the future. "It is important that members of the inquiry have firsthand information and evidence about this devastating outbreak. "The EU inquiry is the only parliamentary inquiry of its kind into the foot and mouth outbreak. All attempts to hold such an inquiry in Westminster were blocked by the Government." Mr Watson praised Devon County Council's response to the outbreak. "The excellent inquiry held and report produced is a model to follow." From tomorrow until Saturday, members of the EU foot and mouth inquiry team will be visiting farms and other businesses affected by the outbreak. They will begin their tour in Scotland, Northumberland and Cumbria.
April 17 2002
Call for Welsh inquiryWALES should be allowed to have its own inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak, Welsh Euro-MP Eurig Wyn has said. Congratulating the chairman of Northumberland County Council's independent public inquiry - Professor Michael Dower - on his report EU Foot and Mouth Inquiry, group co-ordinator Mr Wyn said it was important for Wales to hold its own inquiry.
The Western Mail
His comments came at the second part of the public hearing held in Strasbourg where Euro-MPs have been investigating the UK outbreak.
Mr Wyn said, "In the absence of an urgent and comprehensive inquiry at a national level, Northumberland County Council decided to set up its own inquiry. I therefore ask the question again - why can't we in Wales with our own devolved government authorise a similar inquiry for Wales?
"Wales can identify with the suffering caused to the farming community and many rural businesses in Northumberland by this terrible episode. This report clearly indicates what needs to be changed and highlights grave errors in the handling of the disease, giving a comprehensive evaluation of its far-reaching effects. How can we in Wales have an effective evaluation without a similar full public inquiry?"
The Plaid Euro-MP added, "The Northumberland report outlines the 'lessons learned' which may help to avoid any future out-break of the disease. It also offers a sound basis on which to draw up a contingency plan which is accessible and available to all, unlike the UK's current contingency plan which proved impossible to get hold of."
posted April 17 2002
Foot-and-mouth cullFrom Mr Alan Beat
Sir, Elliot Morley (letter, April 11) claims that existing tests do not show incubating disease. There are separate laboratory tests for live virus (during incubation) and for antibodies (post infection), and Dr Paul Kitching, the former deputy head at Pirbright Laboratory of the Institute for Animal Health, has said: "Blood samples received at Pirbright are tested for virus and antibody; if both are negative it would not be possible for that animal to have, or have had, foot-and-mouth disease."
Fewer than 4 per cent of premises chosen for slaughter under the contiguous cull were shown to be either infected or to be incubating the disease by laboratory test. Therefore I disagree with Mr Morley's statement "in the end it was the contiguous cull which brought the area (the Brecon Beacons) under control". Here in Devon, mine was one among nearly 200 farms that resisted the contiguous cull by various means; not one subsequently developed the disease. He claims that experience in the Brecon Beacons justified the culling, but I have seen no evidence to support this.
Farmers were desperate for laboratory testing of their livestock prior to slaughter, but were denied that right; for Mr Morley now to state that the Animal Health Bill will strengthen powers "to take blood samples" rings hollow.
ALAN BEAT, The Bridge Mill, Bridgerule, Holsworthy, Devon EX22 7EL. April 12.
April 17 2002
Rural affairs minister escapes criticismToby Mason, The Western Mail
RURAL AFFAIRS minister Carwyn Jones has escaped any criticism in the National Assembly's foot-and-mouth investigation, according to a draft report.
While the report makes several recommendations for the future handling of outbreaks, it does not make any criticism of the actions of the minister during the epidemic.
One of the most controversial conclusions it draws is that vaccination could have some role to play in controlling future outbreaks.
It concludes that because of international rules and lack of scientific certainty on sero-testing, the policy of control by culling was the only effective option for dealing with the outbreak.
However, the committee concludes that both "suppressive" and "protective" vaccination could have roles to play in any future outbreak. This goes against the advice of the minister to the committee, but there were some members who were of the opinion that vaccination had been overlooked during the crisis. The committee will recommend that animal health powers currently held by Defra should be devolved to the National Assembly, along with appropriate resources. Should this happen, it would mean that ministers in Cardiff could impose an immediate livestock movement ban if the disease was identified again.
Committee members say this action should be taken immediately in order to lessen the effects of any spread of the disease in the future. The committee will also recommend that contingency planning be improved.
Members discovered severe limitations in the contingency plan meant to deal with the outbreak, with the minister himself admitting that it was inadequate. The Assembly should also ensure that contingency plans are in place to dispose of carcasses from any future outbreak, the report says.
"Decisions should be taken on the basis of an agreed disposal strategy, not at short notice in the pressurised atmosphere of outbreak management," it says. Mr Jones was confident before the inquiry began that he would not face criticism for the way the outbreak was handled in Wales,
April 17 2002
Rural Campaigners to stage Budget Day protestCountryside campaigners are set to stage a demonstration to remind Chancellor Gordon Brown rural businesses need help in the Budget.
Members of the Countryside Alliance are sending a convoy of up to a dozen tractors, supported by two horse trailers, to carry signs around the streets of Westminster in central London urging the Chancellor to "Keep the Countryside Working". The convoy is meeting at Montford Place, Kennington, in south east London, and plans to circle Westminster for several hours after noon.
Farmers in compensation push due to strong poundPublication Date: 15 April 2002 By Paul Dykes
ULSTER farmers could benefit significantly from a campaign by the Ulster Farmers' Union to claim compensation for the strength of sterling.
The UFU is working with the UK National Farmers' Union to identify the amount of EU funding available. UFU president Douglas Rowe said the funding mechanism was in place to reduce the effect of the strength of sterling on farms, and it was up to the Government to claim it "or it will have failed the farming industry".
"It is believed up to £100m could be available to the UK livestock industry," he said.
The UFU believes the original April 30 deadline for claiming the money could be extended because of the delay in confirming the final amounts.
"With milk prices at a 15-year low, and beef and sheep sectors still suffering from the strength of sterling, Northern Ireland has a justifiable case and the UFU will be making every effort on behalf of local farmers," Mr Rowe said.
posted April 16 2002
Letter in Western Morning news "Views" pageI wrote recently to support your campaign for a public inquiry into the atrocious Government handling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak. I also made a donation to the fighting fund run in Honiton. I was disappointed at the outcome of the judicial review and feel let-down by "the system".
Western Morning News
There is a limit to one's energy even when the cause seems so valid yet I must write once more to table some simple questions that have troubled me throughout.
Why were exports of British lamb, beef and pork banned by Europe a full working week before British markets were closed and all movements of these animals halted? What did European vets and advisors know that ours didn't?
What vested interests were served by keeping UK markets and movements open as usual? Even when The Master of Foxhounds Association declared a ban on all hunting, our markets remained open for a further 36 hours. We are told that potential local suppliers of combustible materials (for pyres) were contacted regularly by Ministry officials as a matter of course. Give us the dates. Regularly could be once every 20 years. Did they know it was already here and did they allow it to spread?
It seems perverse to suggest it but it's the only explanation that sits with the facts as I understand them. And of course if it is the case, the public inquiry was always doomed.
Phil Burnett Penryn Cornwall
April 16 2002
Foot and mouth outbreak 'happened earlier'The government is on the verge of being sued for £7bn over claims the foot-and-mouth outbreak actually happened months before it was officially recorded. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has always maintained that the first recorded case in the last epidemic was 20 February 2001. But lawyers acting on behalf of 1,500 rural businesses now claim that a farmer in Wales had a confirmed case in October 2000. London firm Class Law has a statement from a witness which they say confirms this - and this month, a microbiologist employed by the partners will test the cattle carcasses which they are asking to be exhumed.
There are further claims that pigs in the West Country were also contaminated long before February 2001 and buried without an official record being made of them having the disease. .......Stephen Alexander, a partner in Class Act, said they had a large dossier of evidence, including statements from witnesses and farmers. He added: "We are going to send a letter to Defra today [Tuesday] which will include all the evidence we have.
"Our microbiologist says he will be able to do tests on the carcasses which should still show traces of the disease if it is there. "More and more evidence is coming out every day." If Defra "does not respond satisfactorily" a writ will be issued with the High Court suing the UK Government for £7bn in compensation, Mr Alexander added. The group action could mean ministers are summoned to court to face allegations of negligence over their handling of the epidemic that cost the industry dearly. .....
April 16 2002
Labour peer criticises vaccine contract dealBy Cathy Newman, Political Correspondent
Lord Haskins, a Labour peer and close associate of Tony Blair, has criticised the way a £32m government contract to supply smallpox vaccines was awarded to a company run by a party donor. The Labour benefactor told the Financial Times there was "no reason" why the smallpox contract should not have been put out to tender. The latest controversy has increased pressure on the prime minister to reform political party funding. The Department of Health struck a deal with Powderject Pharmaceuticals, a company headed by Labour donor Paul Drayson, to supply millions of smallpox vaccine doses. ..........
Separately, suggestions that BAE Systems, the defence group that has also given money to Labour, had been given special treatment were also rebuffed.
April 14 2002
Blair is sued for £7billion over foot and mouthBy Mark Townsend
Rural Britain will stun Tony Blair this week by launching a staggering £7billion compensation claim - the biggest in legal history - to recover massive losses sustained in the foot-and-mouth crisis. Ministers and rural officials could be summoned to court within a month to face allegations of negligence over the handling of last year's epidemic. Lawyers acting on behalf of up to 25,000 claimants will serve the Prime Minister and the Department for the Envoronment, Food and Rural affairs notice of their intent to sue for damages this Friday. London solicitors Clas Law will grant Defra officials 14 days to respond after which they will instruct the High Court to commence proceedings unless the Government responds with a satisfactory settlement. The audacious legal action could see those who are blamed for failing to control foot-and-mouth disease defending accusations of "negligence and breach of statutory duty." Class Law - recently successful in helping Railtrack shareholders force the Government into a humiliating U-turn over compensating small investors - has put together a fighting fund of £2million to finance what is likely be an expensive, protracted and bitterly-contested case.
MUCKSPREADERPrivate Eye April 11
When David Goddard, who runs a medium-size dairy farm near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, read an article from the Irish Examiner he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. It described how an Irish farmer with a herd of 30 cows can make a comfortable living producing 182,000 litres of milk a year, at an average of just over 6000 litres per animal. Like almost every other dairy farmer in the UK, faced with the recent collapse in UK milk prices by up to 5p a litre, way below the cost of production, Mr Goddard has been at his wits end, wondering how he can survive. Yet he has 130 Holsteins, producing a million litres at an average of 8400 litres each. How is it, he mused, that the Irish can make a living from production levels we left behind in the 1960s, while British farmers with herds 30 percent more efficient are going out of business at a rate of hundreds a month? The most obvious reason why the UK milk price has gone through the floor is that the UK market is awash with cheap milk imported from Ireland and the continent. But hang on.....
April 14 2002
Ainsworth: Beckett's arrogant dismissal of Devon InquiryMargaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for DEFRA has dismissed the conclusions of the Devon inquiry into last year's Foot and Mouth outbreak as reflecting only "local views". In her answer to a Parliamentary Question from the Shadow DEFRA Secretary, Peter Ainsworth MP, Mrs Beckett stated: "I am afraid I do not accept those conclusions." Commenting on Mrs Beckett's statement, Mr Ainsworth said: "This is a bland and arrogant insult to Devon County Council's efforts to explain what went wrong during the foot and mouth crisis. "Maybe she would have accepted Devon's conclusions if her Government had attended the inquiry; it was Ministers' shameful refusal to take part that hampered its search for the truth. Perhaps she is simply unhappy that the findings described a catalogue of errors made by government officials.
April 14 2002
Compensation claim to be launched over foot-and-mouth lossesA £7 billion compensation claim is to be launched over losses sustained in the foot-and-mouth crisis, according to reports.
Ministers and rural officials could be summoned to court within a month to face allegations of negligence over their handling of the crisis, says the Daily Express. It's reported lawyers acting on behalf of 25,000 claimants will serve Tony Blair and the Department of Environment, Food and Fisheries notice of their intent to sue for damages on Friday. Wynne Edwards, partner of Class Law who will give Defra officials 14 days to respond, told the Daily Express: "It is possible to beat the Government as we have seen over the Railtrack decision.
"More and more evidence is coming forward every day and it's looking worse and worse for the Government. "Our evidence is compelling and, judging from what we have seen, we feel we have a reasonable prospect of success."
Claimants apparently range from coffee shops to manufacturers of hiking socks from areas like Cumbria, North Yorkshire, the Midlands, Scotland and the West Country.
A spokesman for Defra said they could not comment on the legal action until they had received official notification. He added the Government had already ruled out paying compensation for "consequential losses" as an indirect result of the disease.
April 16 2002
Thousands of Cattle Slaughtered in GaboroneMqondisi Dube Gaborone
The Botswana government has slaughtered 11 900 cattle and plans to cull a further 12 000 cattle to contain a foot and mouth disease outbreak in the north of the country. The Botswana agricultural ministry said it would go ahead with the slaughter of a further 12 000 cattle in the Matsiloje area but that farmers would be compensated.
"The ministry, in collaboration with the Botswana Defence Force is starting operations but it is too early to say when the restocking exercise will begin," said agriculture assistant minister Pelokgale Seloma. The government has promised to compensate farmers with 70% cash and 30% livestock for the slaughtered animals. The country's vibrant beef industry has been adversely affected by the outbreak, which started in January.
April 16 2002
BSE advisers to meet in public in anti-secrecy driveJames Meikle
Scientists advising the government on BSE and its deadly human form are to hold their meetings in public from the autumn in the latest move to be more open about the consequences of Britain's most costly peacetime disaster. The spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee (Seac) established the probable link between the two diseases in 1996 and thus precipitated the collapse in public confidence in a government that was complacent about the risk to the population.
Now Seac has decided that only scientific papers seen before publication and information that might be commercially confidential will be discussed in private. The 13 members of Seac are appointed by health and agriculture ministers but are determined to maintain independence. They have been impressed by the example set by the food standards agency, which holds its board meetings in public and has sent shivers through Whitehall and the farming and food industries by its readiness to update the public on issues such as the possibility of BSE in sheep. It is understood Seac also might have its own website where background papers discussed by the committee will be published.
The committee was established in 1990, and, like its predecessors from 1986, much of its advice was confidential. That began to change after the 1996 debacle which has probably cost Britain about £6bn as well as unquantifiable human misery. The committee has since then made public statements, held press conferences and published minutes of meetings, but only after informing ministers and top civil servants about its deliberations. The Phillips inquiry into the BSE catastrophe said in its report 18 months ago that politicians, scientists and administrators must be far more open about risk.
Scientific uncertainty about the risks to human health had existed from almost the moment BSE was discovered in 1986, but it was 10 years before the doubts were officially recognised by the scientific or political establishment. Meanwhile, dentists and doctors have been warned not to believe "excessive claims" allegedly being made by some manufacturers of sterilisation equipment about their ability to remove deformed prion proteins that might pose a theoretical risk of spreading variant CJD between patients. The government's medical devices agency has issued a safety notice stating that advertisements for equipment which can cost well over £800 could "mislead" users into thinking an 18-minute steam cycle on dental or surgical instruments could alone minimise the risk.
The agency was unable to cite examples of false claims when the Guardian asked for them.
April 15 2002
FOOT & MOUTH DISEASE - THE BRC ADDRESSES EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTBRC Director-General Bill Moyes addressed a European Parliament Inquiry into the causes and effects of Foot and Mouth Disease, in Strasbourg this week. ..... Bill Moyes highlighted the practical difficulties food retailers had faced during the crisis, particularly regarding distribution to stores; a problem which he partly attributed to officials viewing the crisis as an animal health issue alone, rather than an issue that also had the potential to disrupt food supplies and shake consumer confidence.
British Retail Consortium
In response to questions from British MEPs concerning the rationale behind the UK's decision not to use vaccination to contain the disease, Bill Moyes emphasised that at no time did retailers lobby either for or against vaccination as an alternative to slaughter. Retailers accepted the Government's policy on slaughter and noted very strong views from the farming community against vaccination. However, the Prime Minister had sought retailer's views on a proposed policy of vaccination of dairy cattle in Cumbria and possibly Devon.
Responding to that consultation, the BRC had made it clear that the decision on whether or not to vaccinate was entirely a matter for the Government. As long as public confidence was maintained, retailers would stock, as part of their normal offering, milk and dairy products from pooled milk supplies, including milk from vaccinated herds.
posted April 14 2002
Peter and Juliet Kindersley "On your Farm"If you missed this you can hear the repeat on the internet of the interview with Peter and Juliet Kindersley this morning - their philosophy of keeping their land and their animals to the highest welfare standards was impressive.
BBC Radio Four
Epidemic inquiry to visit North-EastEURO MPs leading the inquiry into last year's foot-and-mouth epidemic will visit the region next week to speak to the farming community about the Government's handling of the crisis. More than 30 members of the European Parliament will start a three-day visit of the North-East and Scottish Borders on Wednesday when they meet members of the farming community at Slaley Hall, in Northumberland. On Friday, the committee will visit a farm in the region that was infected with foot-and-mouth, and members will speak with the farmers concerned about how they feel the outbreak was handled by the Government. Afterwards, the group, with interpreters and support staff, will meet local farmers, NFU representatives, tourism operators and people involved in local businesses, at Hexham Auction Mart.
The visit has largely been down to pressure by North-East MEP and committee member Martin Callanan, who persuaded members to spend time in the region talking to those affected by the epidemic. The MEPs are members of the European Parliament's temporary committee on foot-and-mouth disease, and will sit for 12 months.
One of its main lines of inquiry will be whether current EU policy banning vaccination to cope with outbreaks of disease in animals, should be continued or reversed. The committee heard evidence from former Agriculture Minister Nick Brown during a meeting last month, and other British MPs are expected to be questioned in the coming months.
April 14 2002
Cabinet split over seeking GM crops viewBy Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent
The Cabinet is deeply divided over whether to consult the public before it goes ahead with the widespread planting of genetically modified crops. Downing Street and ministers from the Department of Trade and Industry are eager to block plans for a long consultation on the future of the controversial crops. However, senior government sources said yesterday that "ministers are at loggerheads" over whether to press ahead with a series of government-sponsored videos, regional meetings and focus groups before deciding on commercial licensing.
Downing Street and Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister, are understood to be keen to "stick to the science", using the results from farm trials on GM crops which are due to finish next year. Their arguments are opposed by Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment, and Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, as well as Robin Cook, the Leader of the House of Commons, the source said. The row, which has broken out within the Cabinet Committee on Biotechnology, chaired by Mr Cook, has exposed fresh divisions within the Government about the issue, only a year before it must decide whether to go ahead with full-scale planting. Some ministers fear there could be civil unrest in some areas if they go ahead without public approval. They are also predicting protests from organic farmers and boycotts by shops in response to pressure from consumers. "People who are 'pro' the technology don't want a debate,' said a senior ministerial source. "The environment department and Robin Cook, who is the chair of the cabinet committee, want the public to have a voice."
Green groups, including Friends of the Earth, said it was vital to take public views into account before making a final decision on licensing. Sue Mayer, the director of the pressure group Genewatch and a member of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, which advises on biotechnology issues, said: "Having a public debate is crucial to the decision on commercialisation. The Government should follow the advice of the Commission it put in place." The European Union has warned that genes will inevitably escape from GM crops, contaminating organic farms, creating superweeds, and driving wild plants to extinction.
posted April 14 2002
Whitty steers clear of factsBooker's Notebook
FOR ministers to be caught lying to Parliament used to be an offence worthy of resignation. Does the same apply to the European Parliament? This is the question provoked by two answers given last week by the farming minister, Lord Whitty, when he appeared as an official witness at the inquiry by MEPs into Britain's foot and mouth disaster. No issue thrown up by the Government's handling of this disaster has become more sensitive than whether the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had the legal power to order its contiguous cull, under which more than nine million healthy animals were slaughtered just because they were within three kilometres of a farm where animals were infected. All the evidence is that it did not have this power, which is why the Government is now so desperate to ram through its Animal Health Bill, recently stalled by the Lords. Yet when questioned on this by the inquiry's vice-chairman, Whitty blithely assured MEPs that "the cull was absolutely legal, was approved by the EU and tested in the courts". Apart from the approval of the EU, this is simply not true. The nearest last year's cull came to a genuine legal test was in the case of Grunty the Pig, when Mr Justice Harrison ruled in the High Court on June 21 that the ministry had no power to order the blanket slaughter of healthy animals and that each farm must be assessed by a vet on its individual merits......
April 14 2002
Lords reform held up by Cabinet splitsBy Jo Dillon Political Correspondent
14 April 2002 Reform of the House of Lords has hit a major stumbling block because of a Cabinet rift over how much of the upper house should be elected. This in turn has delayed the Government's response to a significant report into the issue. The Government is expected to respond to the report by the influential Public Administration Committee "shortly", the Lord Chancellor's Department confirmed. It is already two months since the report was submitted to ministers - the usual period for discussion. But divisions among high-ranking ministers threaten to prevent a clear decision on the MPs' report, and mean that the response, due within days, could be a holding position. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is leading those opposing the election of a substantial proportion of the House of Lords, a position that is backed by Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor.
Robin Cook, the leader of the Commons, has made clear his support for the Public Administration Committee's call for 60 per cent of the Lords to be elected - far more radical than the Government's proposed 20 per cent. Mr Cook, with the support of his opposite number in the Lords, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is understood to be arguing the case for a compromise on 50 per cent. The internal Cabinet row has been fuelled by intense pressure from outside. More than 300 MPs, many of them Labour, signed a Commons motion opposing Government plans for a largely appointed House of Lords. The Government is also in danger of being outflanked by the Tories and Liberal Democrats, who have both put forward proposals for the reformed Lords to be at least 80 per cent elected. The Government has argued that this would "destabilise" Parliament. But with charges of "cronyism" already rife, a decision to have a mostly appointed Lords could create a serious political problem for Tony Blair. Dr Tony Wright, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons Public Administration Committee, said yesterday: "I find it surprising that the Government is having so much difficulty in coming to a new agreed position on this. I think it is very clear, to use Robin Cook's phrase, where the centre of gravity lies. "If they came up with proposals of somewhere in the area of what we have proposed, it would win wide support and Lords reform could move ahead. I hope they see the light."
Dr Wright said it might be possible for the Government to make a strong argument for a 50/50 split in the Lords. But he said the status quo or anything less than parity would not be acceptable. "Anything less than that would be difficult to sustain and wouldn't get them out of the political difficulties they are in on the issue." Mr Blair's zeal for House of Lords reform has waned significantly since he took office. There were fears among reformers that separating phase one of reform - the removal of hereditary peers - without signalling what the new House of Lords would look like indicated a lack of commitment to lasting reform.
April 14 2002
Government to improve ramblers' rightsThe Government is speeding up moves to ensure ramblers have rights of way under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael says rights of way represent a key benefit to health, tourism and recreation in the local area. Local authorities could be made to produce rights of way improvement plans which would meet the needs of the 21st century.
Mr Michael says extra money will be available from this financial year onwards. "Last year demonstrated the interdependence of tourism and farming in the rural economy and the central role of access to the countryside. Many farmers commented that they had never before realised how central tourism is to the countryside," he said.
"They are an increasingly important part of our heritage and exist for the benefit of the community at large, in much the same way as the public road network does," he added. New rights of way improvement plans will contain action statements by local highway authorities of proposals to improve and manage their networks to meet the needs of the public.
Mr Michael concluded: "Getting the details right is central to achieving the careful balance between giving people new freedom to enjoy the countryside and enabling land managers to continue to make a living with the minimum of disturbance."
April 14 2002
MEP RAPS VIRUS EMERGENCY POWERSEuro MP Neil Parish has described as "contemptible" an admission that the Government could use emergency powers to control another foot-and-mouth outbreak - even if its Animal Health Bill is defeated. The revelation came while Food Chain Minister Lord Whitty was giving evidence to the European Parliament's own inquiry into last year's epidemic. The Bill, which was thrown out by the Lords, would effectively legitimise the mass slaughter of animals on farms surrounding foot-and-mouth cases and deny farmers any right of appeal. It is designed to override the kind of protests witnessed during last year's outbreak when farmers barricaded their property and more than 200 attempts to cull contiguously were challenged and defeated.
Western Daiy Press
April 13 2002
DISEASE BROUGHT 'COMPLETE CHAOS'A vet who worked during two outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in 1967 and in 2001 has told members of a European Parliamentary committee the administration during last year's crisis was "complete chaos". "It was brutal, wasteful and bloody - the nearest thing Britain has seen to what Europe saw in the Second World War," said Alan Richardson.
Western Morning News
April 13 2002
UFU angry over imported food scaresTwo separate food scares this week involving imported food produce highlight the frustration of local farmers, the Ulster Farmers' Union said today.
The UFU said in a statement that the incidents were frustrating for local famers here who "are applying the highest standards in food safety and production". According to the UFU contaminated Spanish beef, imported to the UK, was intercepted on Wednesday and the beef contained spinal cord, a Specified Risk Material for BSE. On Thursday, imported chicken from Thailand and Brazil was removed from a Belfast supermarket, having been found to contain Nitrofuran, a banned antibiotic.
UFU President Douglas Rowe reflected the anger of the farming community. He said: "Northern Ireland farmers are swamped with food safety and animal welfare legislation, all aimed at satisfying consumers. We are producing world class products but our produce is being substituted by imports which are clearly not being policed to the same extent". Douglas Rowe said the incidents were further evidence that the controls on food production in other countries are not as stringent as in the UK. He said retailers, consumers and the Government should consider this carefully.
April 13 2002
Britain may have to return foot and mouth paymentsBRITISH ministers were on the ropes in Strasbourg this week trying to justify the mass slaughter of four million non-infected animals during last year's foot and mouth outbreak. Lord Whitty, minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told increasingly sceptical Euro-MPs that the contiguous cull was "absolutely legal and approved by the European Union". If the European Parliament's year-long committee of inquiry into the epidemic concludes that he is wrong, Britain could be forced to return up to £270 million in EU compensation paid to farmers and eat a great deal of crow.
His colleague, Elliot Morley, let slip a major statement of policy at the hearings on Monday night, one that is likely to cause fury in Westminster. He admitted that the Government would ignore Parliament if it blocks the Animal Health Bill, which gives Defra draconian powers to slaughter livestock with no right of appeal and restricts civil liberties.
"Many of you may be aware that we have been experiencing some local difficulties over the proposed Animal Health Bill in the House of Lords," he said. "However, should the Bill fail, the government may need to use emergency powers in the event of another outbreak." British MEPs accused the ministers of misleading the committee about the legality of the cull, saying British law authorises only the slaughter of infected livestock or those exposed to the disease. By the Government's own definition, the cull covered animals that were not exposed.
The law has never been tested fully in the British courts, though Grunty the Pig was famously saved from execution last year after a judge ruled that the Government did not have authority to carry out "blanket slaughter".
As for EU law, which has primacy, it permits "monitoring and inspection" of contiguous areas up to three kilometres. It does not authorise mass slaughter, and certainly not as far away as 22 miles.
There is no paper trail indicating that the Government requested the necessary authorisation from Brussels for emergency measures on a mass scale. The European Parliament has a specific mandate to determine if the cull violated EU law. It has written to the European Commission requesting a clear legal response.
The European anti-fraud office, Olaf, is conducting a parallel probe into suspicions of inflated payments to British farmers, while the Court of Auditors has launched another inquiry targeting suspected mismanagement and the role of commission in approving funds to the Government.
The European Parliament hearings - the only public inquiry anywhere into Britain's handling of the epidemic - are becoming a headache for Labour. Pressed three times for an answer on whether the Government came close to meeting the target of slaughtering infected animals within 24 hours, Lord Whitty finally replied with a tart "No". At times it took seven days.
April 13 2002
Letter to the TimesFrom Mr Christopher Gabriel
Sir, David Triesman accuses the Today programme of treating all politicians as "consummate liars", continually "trying to line their own pockets".
It is heartening to know that the BBC still manages accurately to reflect the public mood on certain issues.
Yours faithfully, CHRISTOPHER GABRIEL, Kingsfield Road,
Harrow, Middlesex HA1 3DD. April 10.
April 13 2002
Virus law essay wins prizeAN essay on how farmers can call government to account over the foot-and-mouth disease crisis has won the Woolfe legal scholarship worth £10,000, reports the Daily Telegraph. Philip McGhee, 22, a former comprehensive pupil from Bury, Lancashire predicted in February that that attempts to force a public inquiry through the High Court would fail, the paper reports.
"It seems the judiciary feels it has little choice but to let Government off the hook, effectively putting the lid on any further judicial review claims," writes Mr McGhee, who studies law at St Edmund Hall, Oxford Lord Justice Simon Brown observed that the decision to hold separate and private inquiries rather than a public inquiry falls within the bounds of legality, even if it was not necessarily "right", says Mr McGhee. "In the face of this powerlessness, the government is answerable only at the ballot box for the decisions it has taken," he concludes. "But farmers and anyone else might secure compensation without cost to themselves.... constituents need only contact their MP and request that the "Ombudsman" be called upon to investigate a particular decision for maladministration... Remedies like the Ombudsmen appear more realistic in bringing the government to account on a basic level, securing some remedy for those aggrieved,"
April 13 2002
Quietly and with virtually no nation-wide publicity - which is just the way the Government likes it - more details about New Labour's handling of the foot and mouth crisis are emerging.The inquiry under way in Brussels and Strasbourg - at which British officials, veterinary officers and, crucially, Ministers have been called to give evidence - is slowly teasing out the truth. But it is getting next to no national exposure and, quite clearly, the Government is getting off the hook.
North Devon Journal
Recent evidence has, quite understandably, been overshadowed by the Queen Mother's funeral. But the WMN reported on Tuesday the evidence of Lord Whitty, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Elliot Morley, Animal Health Minister. Today we publish further evidence from vet Alan Richardson.
The evidence of the two Ministers will have been of little comfort to the farmers who suffered such serious losses during the outbreak. The arrogance that characterised so much of the Government's approach to those affected was still apparent, as was Ministers' failure to understand that this was so much more than an economic crisis to those farmers who lost their stock.
Worst of all was Lord Whitty's cheap attack on Exmoor farmer Guy Thomas Everard, who was also giving evidence this week. The Minister said that if every farmer had acted like Mr Thomas Everard and refused the cull, the disease would have spread much more dramatically. That was an unwarranted charge to level at a hardworking farmer who successfully fought to save his animals from the slaughterman because they weren't infected with foot and mouth.
Mr Thomas Everard told the hearing he and his family had been "bullied and intimidated" by MAFF over the cull and had only learned via a media press conference that their animals were due to be killed. When Neil Parrish, the Westcountry Euro MP cross-examining the Ministers, asked if those were the tactics that would be employed if the Animal Health Bill - which gives Ministry vets access to affected farms - were to fail, he got a chilling reply.
Elliot Morley told him that in those circumstances the Government would consider using "emergency powers" overriding the view of the House of Lords, which has stopped the Bill in its tracks because it has caused such widespread alarm across the countryside.
.......this inquiry, useful as it is, has still not got to the real heart of the matter, which is the part that political considerations, including the timing of the General Election, played in decisions that were taken over foot and mouth. The suspicion remains that the controversial contiguous cull policy was massively stepped up, resulting in the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of animals, to clear the decks for last June's election. That remains a question to be put to the Prime Minister in the full glare of an open, accountable and very public inquiry. So far there is little sign of that happening. More archived news