New fear on foot and mouth cases: Heddon pig farmer faces prosecution amid concern that disease may spiral out of control again

New fear on foot and mouth cases:
Heddon pig farmer faces prosecution amid concern that disease may spiral out of control again

June 2, 2001 The Guardian (London) by Peter Hetherington and Paul Brown
Fresh concerns about foot and mouth disease becoming endemic in Britain's sheep emerged yesterday as the man whose Tyneside pig farm was highlighted as a source of the epidemic three months ago revealed he is to face prosecution over the outbreak.

Bobby Waugh said Northumberland county council had accused him of "failure to notify the existence of disease in pigs between its occurrence and discovery by Maff" at his rented farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall. He claimed he was being made a scapegoat.

The number of notified cases of the disease rose by 11 on Thursday, the first time since April 28 that there have been so many outbreaks in a day. Four were in North Yorkshire, three in Lancashire and Cumbria, and one in Cleveland. Yesterday two more cases were confirmed early in the morning in Clitheroe, Lancashire, bringing the total to 1,674 and the total number of animals slaughtered to 3.2m.

A month ago the government's chief scientist, David King, predicted that the number of cases would have dropped to one a day by next week but there is growing concern that the disease is beginning to run out of control again.

Mr Waugh's farm was linked to the Cheale Meats abattoir in Essex, where foot and mouth was first discovered. Just days later on February 26 the disease was confirmed on his farm. He has been told that he faces legal action over a string of alleged offences, including failing to inform Maff that the disease was on his farm, feeding unprocessed swill to his pigs, and breaching animal movement regulations.

The prosecutions are to be brought by Northumberland trading standards officials, who confirmed that they had contacted Mr Waugh. "I don't believe they have got any evidence whatsoever and are just clutching at straws," Mr Waugh said.

The campaigning Foot and Mouth Group meanwhile said it feared the government was preparing for an extension of mass animal slaughtering after the election. Army units were still on standby. In a letter to the prime minister, the group, comprising lawyers, scientists, farmers and rural businessmen, said current statistics giving the number of outbreaks were inaccurate and meaningless. It said there was reason to believe the disease is already endemic "either throughout the national sheep flock or, at least, in a large proportion of it".

Calling for alternative methods to control foot and mouth, it warned that the taxpayer would have to pick up a massive tab - far higher than the pounds 700m in compensation for slaughtered livestock - unless the government changed course. It claimed the cost could rise to pounds 20bn when rising unemployment and the impact on tourism and other rural businesses were taken into account.

The group, formed in the Forest of Dean area in April when members stood at farm gates to prevent Maff slaughtering healthy animals, has now grown into a national network, from Devon to Cumbria.

Janet Bayley, one of its coordinators, who runs a software business in Cirencester, said it was clear slaughtering was now intensifying with "contiguous culling" - slaughtering all animals near infected holdings - on the increase. Whereas four farms were previously being "taken out" for every one with a confirmed foot and mouth case, the ratio had now increased to one to nine.

Against this background, the decision to cancel the Great Yorkshire Show, due to be held from July 10 to 12 at Harro gate, sent shockwaves through the farming community because it had been assumed that the event, which costs pounds 14m to stage and attracts 120,000 visitors, would be able to go ahead with foot and mouth declining.

But with a steady toll of new cases in North Yorkshire and adjoining Lancashire, organisers have written to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who were due to attend the opening, apologising for the cancellation.

Rob Simpson, of the regional NFU, said cancellation was symptomatic of the ravages of foot and mouth on the rural economy. First held in 1838, the show went ahead in 1952 despite a foot and mouth outbreak, although sheep, pig and goat events were cancelled.

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