Pressure grows for foot-and-mouth inquiry

Pressure grows for foot-and-mouth inquiry

June 21, 2001 Reuters by Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) - Farmers, vets and hotel owners are urging the government to hold a public inquiry into the country's foot-and-mouth epidemic, which has cost the food, agriculture and tourism industries billions of pounds.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday, interested parties said Britain needed an inquiry to learn from mistakes that allowed the highly infectious disease to spread rapidly across the country.

"This epidemic has been massively traumatic for many individuals, families and communities and indeed for the country as a whole," Lawrence Woodward, director at organic group Elm Farm Research Centre, said in the letter signed by 50 others.

"It is our belief that only a full and open public inquiry will enable all parts of society to comprehend fully and learn from this outbreak and the profound distress that has visited our countryside and rural communities in the past months."

The livestock disease, which was discovered in Britain in late February, has hit almost 2,000 farms and led to the slaughter of more than three million animals.

The number of cases have now dwindled from more than 50 a day to one or two, but potential visitors to Britain are still staying away in their thousands.

Tourism, worth 64 billion pounds to the nation each year, has been badly hurt after television pictures of burning cattle carcasses on funeral pyres were beamed across the world.

Organic groups and some vets have criticised the government over its slaughter policy, arguing that widespread vaccination against the disease would have caused less chaos and distress.

"We...urge you, not only to change the approaches of the past months, but also to ensure that we all learn from our mistakes and make certain that the destructive and harrowing events that have accompanied this outbreak of foot-and-mouth never happen again," the letter said.

"We believe that such an inquiry would help mitigate that trauma and thereby make a significant contribution to rebuilding and revitalising rural communities and economies."

The new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said Blair would take a decision on whether to hold a public inquiry similar to a two-and-a-half year report into the former government's actions over mad cow disease.

"There's bound to be inquiries of various different sorts," a spokesman said. "But the only person who can take a decision on the public inquiry is Tony Blair."

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