SUBMISSION FROM CAMPHILL VILLAGE TRUST
OAKLAND PARK FARM OUR EXPERIENCES DURING THE FMD EPIDEMIC
Oaklands Park is a community of 116 people, including 48 adults with
special needs in the Forest of Dean. We were the first of a large number
of farms protesting against the cull in the forest. We have a herd of 60
Dairy Shorthorn Cattle, bred over 25 years for docility, and a year-round
milk supply, and a flock of 100 Wensleydale sheep, also bred over a decade for their fleece quality, used by our weavery. We had voluntarily
quarantined our animals way back in February at the beginning of the
outbreak. We were given a form A notice as a contiguous farm on April 6th.
We repeatedly requested vaccination and blood-testing for our animals, on the advice of world experts on FMD. On 18th April we were notified of the plan to cull our healthy animals the following day, despite three vets inspections, all of which testified to the health of our animals. We resisted the cull, with wide public support and media coverage. Our animals were given a reprieve, but we were not informed why. However we were still under a form A notice, which meant that our community of 116 people, including 48 adults with learning difficulties, were under 'house arrest'.
We expected that our form A notice would be down-graded to a form D on 25th April, which was 21 days after the original A notice had been served. But our requests to the Divisional Veterinary Manager were refused: instead he informed us that our case was being dealt with 'in London'. Meanwhile our movements were still severely limited. We were informed that licences would only be granted for urgent medical treatment. Our school-aged children missed a week of term, but were eventually granted licences. We always complied with requests for access to check our animals from ministry appointed vets.
On 13th May, having notified MAFF that we were going to have our animals blood-tested, we were granted permission to have tests taken
by our vet and a ministry vet. We still had to wait a further nine days for
the results, despite being promised a 'fast-track' result. On 22nd of May
the results came back negative, and we were granted a form D notice the
following day, thus releasing us all from 'house arrest' for the first time
in 51 days, over 7 weeks duration.
Meanwhile a number of other holdings in the Forest of Dean had also
resisted the cull. They were also blood-tested in mid-May. All results
came back negative, as did the results of all 34 non-contested contiguous culls in the Forest.
Regarding the Animal Health Bill it is difficult to imagine a more
draconian bill, and this at a time when the Government, and Defra in
particular, should be working to increase the farming community's
confidence in them. During his presentations to the select committee prior to the bill's second reading on November 6th, Elliot Morley voiced his concerns about the level of opposition shown to the contiguous cull.
Although when pressed he stated this was a voluntary cull, he is clearly
keen to remove the possibility for farmers to legally resist the slaughter
of their healthy stock in the future. He made claims that the appeals
against the cull prolonged the disease and increased the number of animals culled, but when called upon to produce evidence of this, was unable to even produce satisfactory figures.
Mr Morley continues to cite the Brecon Beacons as his evidence that the
contiguous cull has been effective, but the truth about this will only
emerge in a full public inquiry. The two "independent reports" he claims
justify the contiguous cull are papers published by the two modelling
teams, not independent reports. Indeed the Prime Minister was urging
farmers to agree to vaccination, on the advice of his scientific advisors,
the very day we resisted the cull of our healthy animals.
There are many experts who could show that the contiguous cull has not been effective. The entire Government Science Group were unanimous that vaccination should have been adopted already in April.
Mr Morley was quick to sweep under the carpet the evidence that of hundreds of cases assisted by solicitors in the West in resisting the cull, not one succumbed to the disease subsequently.
Our experience in the forest of Dean bears out the ineffective,
disproportionate nature of the contiguous cull.
Mr Morley asserted to the Select Committee that the procedure for appealing against the contiguous cull is as follows: " In terms of the present time on contiguous culls, the detail now is that on hearing, normally by telephone, that the animals are to be culled, the farmer can ask the divisional veterinary manger to review the case. That will not change. The DVM makes a rapid assessment of the case. Normally, the point of issue is whether the animals have been exposed to FMD .The DVM gives a ruling. If the decision is that the cull is to go ahead, the farmer indicates that he is not prepared to let the DEFRA staff onto his land and, at the present time, DEFRA has to go to the High Court to obtain an injunction and that is a very time-consuming process.
The change with the bill is that, instead of going to the High Court, DEFRA will go to a justice of the peace and obtain a warrant."
It is our experience that the authority to make decisions about local cases was removed from the DVM by MAFF. We were repeatedly told that our case was being dealt with in London, and that the DVM was obliged to obey the ruling from London, where, of course, there was no local knowledge.
It is clear to us from conversations with others with first hand experience that the rules of contiguous culling were interpreted rather differently in different areas. In Gloucester we were blessed with a DVM who was at least prepared to hold up the culling when a very angry public meeting organised by the Forest of Dean FMD Action Group demanded the right to blood tests prior to culling. This action was later exonerated by the already mentioned fact that all cases, when blood tested, proved negative.
It is our belief that the responsibility placed on local magistrate alone
to pass a death sentence on a neighbouring farmer's livelihood, without the farmer having recourse to present his case, is unjust and against Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
As this bill would lead to the granting of a warrant for the destruction
of livelihood, the farmers require reassurances about the appeal mechanism, which at present is very unclear and only available after the animals have been slaughtered.
Considering the high number of cases where blood tests proved negative, the idea of only being able to appeal after our animals are dead is abhorrent to us.
7 Under the proposed bill, it would become an offence to fail to comply with any restrictions imposed on a farm by ministry officials.
7 It would be an offence to obstruct a government inspector or anyone in the discharge of his duties under the act.
7 The act enables a ministry official to gain forcible entry and if
necessary slaughter animals, as long as he has obtained a warrant from a magistrate.
7 Hitherto, under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights such a warrant could only be granted in a public hearing, but this law would remove that necessity, so the warrant could be granted without the farmer being present to put his case.
7 The inspectors, and the police officers that will be accompanying them, may arrest anyone who prevents them from carrying out their functions under the act.
We are very concerned that all the above remove the right we have under the Human Rights Bill to care for our property and livelihood. Indeed, to take the action we, and the hundreds of supporters, carried out to safeguard our healthy animals would become a criminal offence.
It seems that there is a large measure of mistrust now, and the damage
done to farming by the Government's mishandling of the Foot and Mouth crisis is certainly not going to be helped by introducing such an
unnecessary, undemocratic bill. There is already a large voice of concern, even outrage. This bill would indeed pre-empt the outcome of the three inquiries set up by the Government. It also pre-empts the outcome of the conference that the British Government is sponsoring in Brussels next month.
What is needed in place of this bill is a full scale public inquiry to learn the lessons and apply proper science in the future.
20th November 2001