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Six months of slaughter down on the farm

Six months of slaughter down on the farm

August 20, 2001 The Daily Telegraph (London) by Richard Alleyne

THOUSANDS of farmers and their supporters are expected to march on Downing Street today, six months to the day after the outbreak of the foot and mouth epidemic, demanding a public inquiry into the debacle.

At least 3,000 farmers from as far afield as Cornwall and Cumbria are expected to attend the protest which starts at Hyde Park Corner.

They will hand in a petition at No 10 demanding greater openness surrounding the investigation into the handling of the outbreak.

David Handley, chairman of Farmers For Action which is organising the demonstration, said: "We never know what we are going to find until we have a full and open public inquiry.

"We don't want several private inquiries. One straightforward public inquiry will get to the bottom of this. It doesn't matter if it takes two to three years. "A number of people need to answer questions so we never make the mistakes again. Six months down the road, we are far from having it under control."

The epidemic has produced 1,960 outbreaks and millions of animals slaughtered since the first confirmed case on Feb 20. This is how it has evolved over six months.

February

A vet on meat inspection duty discovers boils on pigs awaiting slaughter at Cheale Meats abattoir, Little Warley, Essex. On Feb 20, the outbreak, and a second at an adjoining farm, is confirmed. The Ministry of Agriculture orders destruction of all livestock there.

The virulent pan-Asiatic type 'O' virus is identified as the source. The next day, the EU bans all livestock exports from Britain. A third outbreak is confirmed.

The disease is traced to a farm run by Bobby Waugh and his brother Ronald, at Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland.

It is believed that it may have originated from pigswill from local schools, Army barracks or restaurants. Imported meat is thought to be the original source.

Vets fear that pigs there may have harboured the disease for three weeks and spread it across surrounding area. This was despite an inspection of the farm 14 days earlier giving the all clear. Farmers asked why the disease was not picked up earlier.

Temporary emergency seven-day movement ban on all farm livestock in Britain. Critics demand to know why it took so long.

Worst fears are confirmed when disease appears at Hexham Sheep market, Northumberland, and most devastating of all, Longtown Market, Cumbria, the biggest sheep market in Europe. The disease has spread all over the country including a cluster in Devon brought there by Willie Cleave, a farmer and major sheep trader who purchased sheep at Longtown.

Outbreak confirmed in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland.

Countryside begins to close down. Ramblers' Association and farmers plead with public to stay off footpaths. Dartmoor National Park is closed, Scotland bans deer stalking and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds closes reserves.

Horse racing is suspended and Six Nations rugby championship match between Ireland and Wales is cancelled.

The Liberty and Livelihood march planned in London is cancelled. The area around Longtown is almost completely devastated.

Huge cull begins. Six pyres around Longtown alone. Pictures of burning livestock horrify the world.

Meat prices rise by 60 per cent as panic buying grows.

Number of cases reaches 26

March

Disease confirmed in France and Holland. Europe suspends all livestock markets for two weeks.

Contiguous culls and "fire break" culls introduced three miles around outbreaks.

Huge delays and backlogs build up for animals awaiting slaughter. At its height, it is said to take 10 days from diagnosis to death in Cumbria. Another seven days to dispose of the carcasses. Up to a million animals face slaughter.

David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, admits the disease is out of control.

Britain, he says, could lose 50 per cent of its livestock in the "worst case scenario".

Tony Blair intervenes personally, putting off a trip to Europe to travel to Cumbria. Later, he hints for the first time that he may delay the election from its expected date of May 3.

Cabinet war rooms are used to co-ordinate the fight amid criticism that the ministry is botching the cull.

Army used in an administrative roll. Army butchers help with the slaughter.

Number of cases reaches 900.

April

Cheltenham Festival, already delayed, is cancelled after outbreak near the racecourse.

William Hague calls for the Army to be put in charge of the eradication programme. After dithering for a week, the Government agrees. Officers claim that logistically the crisis is more complicated than the Gulf War.

Millions of animals are starving to death in the muddy fields as movement restrictions bite. Animal lovers are shocked by the sight of newborn lambs left to die. A "welfare" cull introduced after RSPCA calls for action to stop newborn lambs dying in muddy fields. Up to a million and a half animals face cull.

On April 15, Government U-turn. It says it might consider vaccination. The idea is abandoned after opposition from farmers and scientists.

Prof King claims the crisis is "past the worst" and produces research that suggests that it will be under control by June. Seen as the green light to announce election. Farmers accused of infecting their own livestock to win compensation. This ruled out by Lady Hayman, farm minister.

Number of cases up to 1,529.

May

The Government announces plans to ban pigswill containing meat and illegal imports of meat in the hope it will stop the foot and mouth epidemic happening again.

Hefted sheep and rare breeds exempted from the "firebreak" cull as it appears the epidemic is cooling down. Fears of disease, however, emerge on Exmoor National Park.

Government announces election to be held on June 7, at which time its scientists claim the epidemic will be all but over.

Horror as its blood tests show that nearly a third of animals slaughtered on suspicion of having the disease were wrongly diagnosed.

On May 18, Britain its has first day without any outbreaks since the epidemic began. Anger among farmers at Government calls to re-open footpaths in time for Spring Bank Holiday.

New outbreaks in Settle, North Yorks, spark fears that the disease may be resurging.

Number of cases at 1,676.

June

Bobby and Ronnie Waugh, the brothers whose farm was one of the first to be infected, are charged under the Animal Health Act and Protection of Animals Act with number of accusations including failure to notify existence of foot and mouth and feeding unprocessed catering waste to pigs.

Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, is demoted during the Government reshuffle after the June 7 election.

His job is taken over by Margaret Beckett who is put in charge of the newly formed Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

She dodges calls for a public inquiry into the epidemic. Compensation payments to farmers reach more than pounds 1 billion.

Number of cases at 1,799.

July

A scientific report claims that delays by the Government "doubled" the foot and mouth toll. Dr Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, said the backlog of culling was to blame.

Lord Whitty, the food and farming minister, angers farmers by calling for an end to farm subsidies. He suggests that farmers should get insurance to protect them from future outbreaks.

Lord Haskins, head of the Government's Better Regulation Taskforce, further infuriates farmers when he says they have been "mollycoddled for too long".

Most footpaths are opened in time for the beginning of the main holiday season.

Tony Blair suspends the clean-up at farms in England after the rural affairs department reports that they are costing more than pounds 100,000 a farm. That compares with just pounds 36,000 in Scotland.

However, the department shows it has botched its calculations and payouts are much less than thought.

The crisis worsens in Wales when it is announced that 4,000 sheep on the Brecon Beacons had to be slaughtered after blood tests showed the disease.

Standardised compensation scheme abolished amid claims that farmers are abusing the system. Each farm will be assessed on individual basis.

Total outbreaks reach 1,914.

August

John Major accuses Tony Blair of playing down the epidemic in the election run-up.

Lord Whitty tells farmers they will never receive so much financial help in the future and once again raises the idea of insurance.

The department releases details that 37 farmers stand to receive more than pounds 1 million each in compensation.

Farmers accuse the Government of leaking the news to shift the blame.

On Aug 10 Mrs Beckett, fresh from her holiday in France, announces there will three inquiries into the outbreak, none of them public.

Inquiries will look at what went wrong, a new vision for the future of British farming and how to deal with outbreaks in the future.

The National Farmers' Union and MPs accuse the Government of a cover-up.

Movement restrictions eased in Devon. Farmers begin the slow and laborious process of restocking.

Fears grow that many farms will go bankrupt as winter approaches. There are also fears in Cumbria of resurgence in autumn as the cool weather allows the virus to thrive.


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