NFU chief suggests eco-terrorist link to outbreak

NFU chief suggests eco-terrorist link to outbreak

May 15, 2001 The Guardian (London) by Paul Brown

Eco-terrorists may have deliberately triggered the foot and mouth epidemic in Britain and other outbreaks around the world, the National Farmers Union president, Ben Gill claimed yesterday in a speech in Australia which has outraged environmentalists.

Answering a question about at a farmers' conderence in Canberra about whether environmentalists could be to blame, Mr Gill said: "There is no doubt foot and mouth spread to the UK illegally and, unfortunately, we cannot rule out eco-terrorism."

Warning Australians to further tighten quarantine rules he added: "The pressures of green groups are intense in Europe, and I understand, building here in Australia."

In London the NFU stood by its president. A spokeswoman said: "He was asked whether it was eco-terrorists that could have caused the epidemic. It is one of many possibilities that cannot be ruled out. That is what he was saying, and its fair enough."

Yesterday, Friends of the Earth described Mr Gill as pushing "mad hatter" views. The Ministry of Agriculture also distanced itself from the farmers' leader.

The ministry blames farmers and modern farming practices rather than evironmentalists for spreading the outbreaks. A Maff spokesman said:"The eco-terrorist theory we had to consider along with many others at the start of the outbreak, but there was, and is, no evidence at all to back it up, and so there has been nothing to investigate.

"Our belief is that foot and mouth was spread round the country by sheep movements from an original infection that occurred at a pig farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland. That was most likely caused by infected meat getting into pigswill. We do not know how it got there but no-one has ever suggested it was environmentalists."

The government is concerned that intensive farming methods make the UK increasingly vulnerable to diseases like foot and mouth and is hoping to change the emphasis of subsidies from rewarding mass production to making landowners stewards of the countryside. This is a policy favoured by environmental groups but opposed by larger farmers who do well out of the existing subsidy system.

Friends of the Earth executive director Charles Secrett said: "Ben Gill's mad hatter comments on eco-radicals causing the foot-and-mouth crisis are the latest indication that he is cracking up.

"He has no evidence whatsoever to back up this wild assertion. It is not the first time he has tried to deflect criticism of his own organisation for the crisis besetting farmers by blaming environmentalists.

"He falsely accused animal protesters of using violence and extreme action to cause a GM trial site in Pembrokeshire to be cancelled. The protesters were absolutely peaceful and were praised by the police for holding a model demonstration."

Mr Secrett said it was now time to abandon the "intensive" style of farming supported by the NFU and replace it with organic food production.

Meanwhile the Scottish executive said last night that it was ending the automatic culling of livestock within 3km of infected farms in south-west Scotland and the Borders, the main areas of infection in Scotland. The rural development minister, Ross Finnie, said decisions over whether to cull would now be taken on a case-by-case basis.

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