Uncertainty could lead to farmers' rebellion

April 25, 2001 The Scotsman by Fordyce Maxwell

THE Scottish executive was warned yesterday that farmers in Galloway are on the verge of rebellion because of the uncertainty and despair caused by unreliable blood tests in the battle against foot-and-mouth.

Alex Fergusson, Conservative list MSP for south-west Scotland, told the rural affairs committee: "We are close to the first sign of organised resistance to this slaughter policy."

The reasons, he said, were the recent change in policy which allowed vets to authorise slaughter if there were clinical signs of foot-and-mouth; the fact that this triggered the three-kilometre cull immediately and that many results of the blood tests then came back negative.

"I was told by a senior vet that five out of seven tests on the cases in Wigtownshire showed negative," he said. The converse was where a test showed negative on Friday, but was subsequently confirmed as positive on the Sunday.

He added: "When infection diagnosed on one farm can trigger a three kilometre cull of almost 40 farms, as happened in Wigtownshire, you can understand the despair and uncertainty of apparently unreliable tests."

There were probably sound scientific reasons for tests showing negative, depending on when samples were taken, he said. But the Scottish executive had failed lamentably in keeping farmers informed about what was happening.

The Wigtownshire cases, well away from the main infected area of Dumfries and Galloway, were creeping towards the hefted hill flocks, said Fergusson, a former hill farmer.

"There could be considerable resistance as people ask why should they give up their stock when test results are showing negative? Farmers are getting very angry."

He did not want to jeopardise any necessary slaughter of infected animals, he said, nor did he suggest that none of the animals being culled were uninfected.

But he had warned the executive that it was heading for trouble unless it gave more information to affected farmers. His warning was backed immediately by the committee.

Earlier George Lyon, Lib Dem, had criticised the welfare cull and Fergus Ewing, SNP, said that the rural affairs department must ease livestock movement restrictions in the provisionally-free area of Scotland above the Forth/Clyde line from 1 May.

Concern was also expressed about the number of jobs being lost because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, including those such as a mole-catcher and dairy equipment engineer, who were not covered either by compensation to farmers or help being given to the tourist industry.

ALTHOUGH Nick Brown, minister of agriculture, seems - once again, for the time being - to have ruled out vaccination for cattle as part of the battle against the virus, pro-vaccination, anti-slaughter campaigners have not given up.

The fifth in a series of meetings was held at St Boswells on Monday night with Dr Richard North the main speaker to an audience of more than 100, of whom fewer than ten were commercial farmers.

Warning that unvaccinated cattle would mean a massive increase in confirmed foot-and-mouth cases when they were turned out of winter housing on to grass, North said that the government had committed "a cardinal folly - it has believed its own propaganda" that it is in control of the epidemic.

Denying that he was anti-Labour - "only anti-big government and anti-European Union" - North said: "Their data is flawed and their methods are wrong. If they believe this is under control, they're wrong - it's not.

"We will see another phase of the infection when cattle are turned out to grass in the south of the country and it will spread north. By mid-May the government will have to think again."

Claims by the NFU that vaccination would not be 100 per cent effective were correct, he said. But no vaccine for any disease was, or needed to be, to reduce infection and reduce the spread.

A pro-vaccination demonstration will be held in Kelso on Sunday afternoon.

Jim Pate, one of many Borders farmers who is refusing to leave his farm while the epidemic continues, said: "I feel very strongly that the NFU is right to continue to argue for the slaughter policy. It is our best chance to get through this."

LAST night there was bad news for farmers and the Scottish executive when a clinically diagnosed case of foot-and-mouth was found at Crumstane Farm Park, near Duns in Berwickshire.

That followed the slaughter on suspicion of a ewe flock at East Newburn smallholding near Berwick on Tweed in Northumberland after diagnosis late on Monday night.

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