Ministers made outbreak worse, say MEPs

THE Government’s handling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak traumatised farmers and broke animal welfare laws, according to a European Parliament committee of inquiry.

Its draft report blames red tape and bureaucratic delays in disposing with slaughtered animals for making the crisis worse. The erosion of the state veterinary service is also said to have weakened its capacity to respond to the crisis.

“In individual cases it was also reported that farmers affected had been intimidated and pressurised in connection with the culls,” the report says.

“These shortcomings caused considerable stress among those concerned, many of whom were still suffering psychologically as a result months after the crisis.”

The report is the outcome of a year-long inquiry in which a cross-party panel of MEPs have been assessing the response to the disease.

Caroline Lucas, the inquiry’s vice-president and Green Party MEP for South East England, said: “The British Government opposed the inquiry, just as it opposed any public inquiry into the outbreak at a domestic level, but I hope it will listen and learn.”

Wolfgang Kreissl-Dorfler, the author of the draft report, said the British Government did not having contingency plans ready for a “serious and extensive” outbreak of foot-and-mouth. “Hundreds of foreign vets had to be deployed, which led to confusion and uncertainty among farmers, partly on account of linguistic communication problems.”

He added that the Government’s information policy was inadequate. Information was poor and advice from government departments was repeatedly altered, inconsistent or even contradictory.

A final report will be published after further proposals from the committee, but its recommendations are not binding.