March 27, 2002 The ScotsmanCOPING with last year's foot-and-mouth epidemic was a bigger logistical exercise for the government than Britain's involvement in the Gulf War, former agriculture minister Nick Brown said yesterday.
He was outlining the scale of the crisis at a special inquiry in Brussels - and pointing out that the slaughter of more than four million animals had to be offset against more than half a million cows, pigs and sheep which were killed for human consumption every year in the UK.
He also insisted to a "temporary committee" of cross-party MEPs that the government had acted swiftly and in line with EU requirements to tackle the epidemic. The inquiry has no legal powers but will produce recommendations about how EU governments should cope with any future disease outbreaks on farms, with particular reference to whether vaccination should be used.
The ban on vaccination against foot-and-mouth is in place because its general use would cost EU farmers disease-free status.
Brown told the committee that introducing vaccination would render animals and farmers "compromised" beyond the end of the outbreak, but government did believe that the EU's policy on vaccination had to be reviewed.
In dealing with last year's epidemic he said that the approach adopted by ministers and officials from the start was "a standard one" based on veterinary advice and aimed at strict containment of the disease and rapid eradication.
State veterinary services were reinforced immediately and, when the nature of the epidemic became clear, administrative teams throughout the country were strengthened. In total, 7,000 civilian and military personnel were drafted in.
The key aim was the slaughter of all animals on infected premises within 24 hours.
Disposal of carcasses was sometimes a problem, with burial hampered in Cumbria by the rock strata and in Devon by the high water table.
The widely-shown pictures of burning pyres had been "powerful images", Brown acknowledged.