Army operation dwarfs campaign in gulf, says Blair

May 1, 2001 The Independent (London)  by Nigel Morris

THE MASSIVE operation to combat foot-and-mouth disease had dwarfed Army campaigns in Kosovo or the Gulf War, Tony Blair said yesterday.

The Prime Minister fiercely defended the Government's handling of the epidemic, insisting ministers had no other option than to cull millions of sheep, cattle and pigs.

He spoke out as protesters prepare to hand a petition to Downing Street tomorrow calling for a halt to the "mindless slaughter" of healthy animals. Mr Blair said that Britain had suffered the most serious outbreak of the virus ever experienced in Europe.

Speaking at the London Press Club awards lunch, he said that Army experts drafted in to lead the operation had described dealing with foot-and-mouth as "roughly several times more difficult in logistics and practicality than the Gulf War or Kosovo".

He said: "There never was a serious alternative to slaughtering out the infection... Even now as we come towards the end of this ghastly business we have killed just less than four weeks' normal food production.

"Each year we will kill round about 30 million livestock animals for food and 15 million chickens every week. A failure to slaughter out the infection would have blighted farming and food production for years."

A protest petition against the mass slaughter will be handed into Downing Street by former Tory minister Sir Michael Spicer. The signatures have been collected from farmers and members of the public in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire in support of vaccination.

Only three new cases of foot-and-mouth were confirmed on Sunday, and latest figures showed an extra six outbreaks were diagnosed yesterday, bringing the total to 1,517.

New cases emerged at the rate of 11 a day last week, compared with 16 a day during the previous week, giving added weight to hopes that the disease is declining faster than scientists originally predicted.

More than 2.4 million animals have been identified for slaughter, including 1.8 million sheep, 408,000 cattle, 108,000 pigs and 2,000 goats.

A total of 112,000 animals were still awaiting slaughter yesterday, according to the figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

n The Irish government is expected to signal a further relaxation of restrictions on nationwide livestock movement today.

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