Army 'caused original foot and mouth infection'
Exclusive: MoD admits training camp supplied untreated slops to pig farm

April 29, 2001 Sunday Telegraph (London) by Joe Murphy

THE ARMY was last night accused of being the source of the foot and mouth epidemic after it admitted supplying untreated waste food to the pig farm where the disease broke out.

In an astonishing development in the search for the epidemic's origin, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that slops - including waste meat imported from countries where the disease is rife - were supplied to the farmers at the centre of the outbreak.

The food was taken from the kitchens of Whitburn Training Camp, near Sunderland, and fed to pigs at Bobby and Ronnie Waugh's farm in Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture said last night: "We cannot comment on the investigation into the source of the outbreak, because it might prejudice further actions that may have to be taken, including prosecutions."

The link to the Waughs' farm was admitted by Baroness Symons, the defence minister, who came under pressure from the Liberal Democrat peer, Lady Miller of Clithorne Domer. "For more than 25 years, an unwritten agreement has existed between local Army commanders and the Waugh brothers to dispose of a minimal amount of wet food waste on an occasional basis," she said in a written answer to Lady Miller last week.

Bobby Waugh yesterday said that he last collected a lorryload of wet food slops from Whitburn camp in December. The disease was identified at the farm on February 22, but was thought by Maff vets to have been present among the 600 pigs for several weeks.

Mr Waugh, who is licensed by Maff to process waste into swill, added: "I collected waste food from Whitburn around 10 times a year." He claimed that it was processed into swill at a neighbour's farm.

MPs demanded an immediate inquiry into the affair and accused Maff of smearing the Chinese restaurant trade to cover up the link to the Army. At the start of the foot and mouth crisis there had been a furious row when a Maff official alleged that illegal meat used in Chinese restaurants was probably to blame. Some restaurants suffered a 40 per cent drop in trade as a result and demonstrators marched on the ministry headquarters in London.

The Ministry of Defence faced calls to stop buying cheap meat for soldiers from countries where foot and mouth is endemic.

More than half of the meat served to soldiers is imported, some from Brazil and Uruguay where the serotype O strain of foot and mouth - the one that is ravaging Britain - is endemic.

The admission that imported Army meat went to the farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall is the first time that a potential path of infection has been identified, although the MoD claimed yesterday that its imported meat came from farms free of the disease.

Last month, when Maff said that swill was believed to be the source, it did not disclose the existence of the contract between the Army and the Waugh brothers. Whitburn camp is a rifle range used by the Territoral Army and the cadet force for four months a year.

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, yesterday described the disclosure of the Army supplies as "a very serious matter". He added: "Clearly there is a risk that the Army slops were a source of the foot and mouth outbreak. I never believed that the smear against the Chinese restaurants had any foundation and it now appears to have been an attempt to divert attention away from the real culprit. This must be investigated immediately and it cannot wait for the wider inquiry that will be held after the epidemic has been defeated.

"We Conservatives were arguing long before this outbreak that it was wrong for the Ministry of Defence to be importing so much cheap meat from countries that do not meet the same standards of farming as the UK." Lady Miller, the Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman, urged the Army to stop importing meat from foot and mouth countries. "It is possible that the Army waste could have triggered off the foot and mouth outbreak.

"The slur on the Chinese restaurant trade was utterly unfair. We need a stronger regime of quality checks." Yesterday, the MoD said it was "sure" that its imports were not the source of foot and mouth.

"There is no reason to suspect any MoD establishment," said a spokesman. "Some meat is imported from Brazil and Uruguay, but it is from foot and mouth-free regions of those countries and conforms with British and European regulations."

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