Vets faced unfair FMD pressure

The Scotsman
Carol McLaren
Wednesday, 13th March 2002
THE veterinary profession's reputation and relationship with the farming industry has been enormously damaged by events during the foot-and-mouth crisis, a Dumfriesshire vet told members of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's inquiry this week.

Speaking at an open meeting in Dumfries, Roger Windsor said the sort of pressure vets - particularly inexperienced, younger vets - were put under during the crisis amounted to blackmail in some cases.

Mr Windsor said he personally had refused to play any part in the slaughter of livestock which, in his view, were healthy and did not present a serious disease risk as a result of FMD controls imposed by politicians and mathematicians.

This, he said, had raised a serious ethical problem for the vets involved.

"What I cannot reconcile myself to is vets going out on to farms, examining animals, seeing they are healthy then writing certificates to say this is an infected farm and condemning animals to death," he said.

But he said some of his colleagues in the profession, including overseas vets who spoke little English, were subjected to threats and the sort of blackmail which must never be allowed to happen again.

"I know for a fact of one vet who was told by another, 'if you don't sign a Form A, the animals will be slaughtered anyway and the farmer will get no compensation'.

"It has done our reputation with the farming community a great deal of harm and we have to build those bridges so people can again have confidence in their veterinary profession," he said.

Mr Windsor is one of a group of vets and farmers which is tabling a proposal to the Royal Society's inquiry for the formation of a "Territorial Army" of vets. This would involve local veterinary inspectors (LVIs) being trained and incorporated under contract into the much-depleted state veterinary service to be called upon at short notice if a disease breakdown emerges.

Since 1967, he said, the state veterinary service has been slashed from 518 vets to just over 200 at the time of last year's outbreak.

And Mr Windsor warned: "One of the big changes we are seeing is because of the economics of farming which is being starved of money so veterinary practices are disappearing. It won't be long before we have hardly any rural veterinary practices left in this country."

The huge emotional penalty of the culling policy was emphasised repeatedly by those who had lost stock in the crisis and a spokesman for Countrycare NHS Trust said the cull had a profound effect on families, especially children.

The Royal Society's remit is wider than the three enquiries south of the Border said inquiry, chairman Professor Ian Cunningham, but the intention is to limit its recommendations to a sensible level . "Our intention is to see what lessons can be learned but there will not be a witchhunt," said Prof Cunningham.

The Scotsman