To no-one's surprise, the Animal Death Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday. One observer noted that there were only thirty to forty MPs present when Margaret Beckett was speaking, yet nearly five hundred votes were cast at the end of the debate! Where were all the other MPs? - in their offices, eating or drinking, but certainly not taking any notice of what was said in the House. A motion to reject the Bill was defeated by 308 votes against and 180 for. A second motion in favour of the second reading was passed by 303 votes with 181 against.

The bill now moves into the Committee stage and details of this should emerge around the end of the week.

Meanwhile Margaret Beckett is due to appear before the Select Committee tomorrow (Wednesday).

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No minutes of last Wednesday's Select Committee hearing have been posted on the website. We queried this and were told that only when ministers were questioned did the uncorrected transcript appear on the Internet. So what King, Anderson et all had to say will not appear for another fortnight or so while the minutes are "corrected" and printed out.

We will stay on the case.

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The friendly DEFRA newsletter for Devon has featured here before, with its classic double-speak misinformation. The current one carries a statement by Elliot Morley attempting to justify the new Bill. He writes:

"We must not be prevented from taking effective action to stamp out the disease because we lack a key power. . . . this Bill ensures that we will not be left in this position."

This is a clear and unambiguous admission that the contiguous cull WAS illegal in the first place.

"This disease has involved huge expense, disruption and distress"

Excuse us, but we don't know of any problems caused by the disease, rather it has been the government's response to the disease that has directly caused all these effects and so many more besides.

On reduced compensation - "even a small minority (of farmers) can be responsible for serious spread and it is not acceptable that the majority are put at risk in this way"

We entirely agree that it was not acceptable for the government to delay the imposition of movement restrictions by four days right at the start of the epidemic, thereby directly causing greatly increased spread of between one-third and one-half of the total epidemic, as estimated by their own computer modellers, and dwarfing any possible impact that poor biosecurity among the farming community can possibly have made. This is Morley at his most hypocritical, blaming others for minor fault whilst blatantly failing to acknowledge his own far greater failings.

We sense an increasing gap between the government and the mass of ordinary farmers. While the NFU hierarchy remain cosily snuggled up to DEFRA policy, these increasingly critical, insulting and hypocritical statements from government ministers are steadily eroding the support of farmers at the grass-roots level. These disenchanted people become potential recruits to our cause, and the more vitriol that ministers pour out, the bigger the hole they are ultimately digging for themselves to fall into.
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From The Times letters page today:

TUESDAY NOVEMBER 13 2001

Control of foot-and-mouth disease

FROM THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE AT THE DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

Sir, It is wrong to suggest (letter, November 5) that it is a waste of time to slaughter animals on farms with no foot-and-mouth disease. Consistent scientific advice throughout the efforts to eradicate foot-and-mouth has been that culling was the right policy. Culling susceptible animals on contiguous farms was done to try to get ahead of the disease, a policy supported by three teams of independent epidemiologists. Once fully implemented, that culling policy worked. This was demonstrated in the Brecon Beacons where the disease was not brought under control until contiguous culling was implemented.

A negative laboratory result does not necessarily mean that contiguous premises did not have animals which were incubating the disease. Current tests do not show positive until the disease is well advanced. The whole point of the cull is to prevent that happening.

The Animal Health (Amendment) Bill does not commit us to any one course of action in the future. It strengthens powers for access for vaccination and serology. If culling is to be used, quick and efficient application will reduce the number of animals involved. This manoeuvre increases our options.

Furthermore, contrary to your report (Times 2, November 6), the Government has not dismissed the use of vaccination against foot-and-mouth. I have set out both the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination, but if the Government was intent on only one course of action we would not have set up an independent scientific review, nor would we have set up an independent inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak, nor would we have organised a major international conference in Brussels next month which will focus very much on vaccination.

Yours faithfully, ELLIOT MORLEY, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, SW1P 3JR. November 8.

From Mr John Capstick

Sir, The fundamental reason for the reluctance of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to embrace vaccination as a method of controlling foot-and-mouth disease comes near the end of Magnus Linklater's article (Times 2, November 6). The argument about the effect of vaccination on livestock exports betrays the dead hand of the National Farmers' Union.

Such exports are a small part of UK agricultural production. Their significance is likely to decline further in favour of meat exports if increased controls on livestock movements are a result of the present outbreak. Meat exports have already restarted from non-infected parts of the UK.

Moreover, the value of livestock exports pales into insignificance before the billions of pounds of damage caused to tourism by the current methods of FMD control.

Yours faithfully, JOHN CAPSTICK, Townhead, Johnby, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 0UU. November 6. *****************************

From the www.warmwell.com website:

Nov 13 ~ a letter from Elliot Morley in The Times makes this extraordinary statement: "A negative laboratory result does not necessarily mean that contiguous premises did not have animals which were incubating the disease. Current tests do not show positive until the disease is well advanced." Would Pirbright scientists agree with this comment on their powers of testing? In our entry here for October 14th Paul Kitching 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 FMD assuming they sent samples from the animals that they suspected of disease." Dr Kitching adds, " PS: of the 30% of the farms whose slaughter was blocked and then went down with disease (King), how many were confirmed in the laboratory? " We still don't know the answer to this one. Email correspondent Sue remarks, "Strange, isn't it, how in the Brecon Beacons 'A negative laboratory result does not necessarily mean that... premises did not have animals which were incubating the disease' yet in the case of the recent SOS in Cumbria, it meant that the disease was not present. Are the tests suddenly more efficient?'

Nov 12 ~ If the Government thought the Animal Health Amendment bill would simply go through on the nod, it had reckoned without Tony Banks and William Hague both of whom harangued the government and called for an independent inquiry. Tony Banks led Labour backbench unrest over the Animal Health Bill, and said he would abstain. "We are being asked to support a Bill that gives far greater powers to ministers before we fully understand the causes of the outbreak itself.....It gives so extensive a range of powers to DEFRA officials that it terrifies me." Mr Hague, accused ministers of "bureaucratic bungling" and said that DEFRA had treated the foot and mouth outbreak like an "inconvenient news story".

ENDS

from Alan & Rosie