Beckett admits farm disease errors

Nov 7 2002

Nick Speed Political Editor, The Western Mail


THE National Assembly is to have a bigger role in fighting any future outbreaks of foot-and-mouth, the Government announced last night.

Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett admitted that ministers had been too slow in responding to the crisis, as the Government accepted "virtually all" of the recommendations made by two inquiries into foot-and-mouth.

She also held out the prospect of a mass vaccination as one example of how the Government would respond differently to a future epidemic.

The official response also made it clear that it was giving full consideration to Assembly requests for more powers to deal with the disease.

With former Agriculture Minister Nick Brown sitting alongside her, Mrs Beckett told MPs, "I have always acknowledged that in the desperate circumstances faced not only by the farming community but by my department and its officials... mistakes were bound to have been made."

Of the report, she said it "gives us the basis to learn lessons and learn lessons we will."

She announced a ban on personal imports of meat to be enforced by Customs and Excise with the help of detector dogs and said dedicated contingency planning would be established around the UK.

Farmers had to bear some responsibility for "minimising dis-ease risks", she added as she confirmed that the controversial 20-day movement ban would remain in place until a detailed risk assessment had been completed.

Shadow Environment Secretary David Lidington said the rule was having a disastrous effect on livestock farmers who faced "breaking the law or obeying the law and risk going out of business entirely."

Pledging to push for animal health powers to be transferred to Cardiff Bay, Plaid Cymru's Simon Thomas said, "The 20-day rule made sense in the period after infection but now it's been used to force the small family farm out of business and create the Government's vision of large unsustainable farming units."

The Lib-Dem MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, Roger Williams, welcomed the Government's decision to accept an amendment by his party to the Animal Health Bill to require annual reports to MPs and AMs on the effectiveness of new import controls.