Foot-and-mouth figures 'fiddled'

By Marie Woolf Chief Political Correspondent

21 November 2002

The European Parliament accused the Government yesterday of fiddling the figures on the number of animals slaughtered during the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

In a damning report, it said that while official figures claimed 6.5 million animals were slaughtered, the actual number was about 10 million.

The report said ministers had contravened EU laws and increased the number of animals infected by the disease by failing to ban animal movements early enough.

The strongly worded attack criticised the Government for inadequate planning when the outbreak began. It recommended hotels and businesses that lost money should receive compensation and questioned whether the policy of culling animals in infected areas helped to curb the epidemic.

MEPs on the committee that held the inquiry said it was a "devastating account of the UK government's handling of the outbreak". The Conservative MEP Robert Sturdy said: "Almost every line of this report should shame the Government. It is no surprise that the Government has done everything in its powers to hide this evidence from the British people.

"There is clear evidence the Government has been falsifying figures in an attempt to play down the true impact of the outbreak. Government figures suggest that six million animals were slaughtered. Our findings point to a figure of 10 million."

The report said many new-born lambs and calves were not counted in the official figures because they were not included for compensation. It suggested that if ministers had agreed to vaccinate animals on neighbouring farms they could have reduced the culling total.