Sunday, August 05, 2007

FMD

Oh fuck, here we go again.
The outbreak in 2001 led to between 6.5 million and 10 million animals being destroyed and cost as much as £8.5bn. Many farms and other rural businesses were ruined, and the UK's tourist industry was severely hit.

All we need now is for the Gobblin' King to announce that Professor Sir Roy Anderson FRS—charlatan, liar and computer modeller par excellance shitness—is in charge of the strategy and we can all look forward to the total destruction of what is left of British farming. Modestly, there is no mention of Sir Roy's involvement in the FMD crisis on his Wikipedia entry; your humble Devil is absolutely convinced that this is a mere oversight and a full catalogue of his outstanding achievements during that disaster will soon appear.

At this point, I would urge you to read Private Eye's Not The Foot And Mouth Report (by Christopher Booker and Dr Richard North) which documents, in chronic detail, the absolute and total fuck-up that characterises the government's (illegal) reponse to the last outbreak. Needless to say, the EU also takes a prominent role.
One of the biggest puzzles in the early days of the crisis was why MAFF's strategy for tackling the disease was so dramatically different from that used 30 years earlier to bring the 1967/8 epidemic under control. Farmers were baffled as to why it seemed to be taking so long to slaughter and dispose of infected animals. Why did MAFF often have to wait days for samples to be confirmed as 'positive' by Pirbright? Why was it not possible for local vets to order slaughter on diagnosis? Why did they have to apply for authorisation to a committee of MAFF vets in London, at Page Street, Westminster? Why, after slaughter, was it then taking so long to dispose of carcasses? Why were they often having to be taken away to be burned, rather than buried on the spot in quicklime, as had been common practice in 1967? Similarly baffling was the thinking behind these '3 kilometre protection zones' and '10 kilometre surveillance zones'. Where had all this new strategy come from? Certainly Nick Brown and his officials never bothered to explain it.

The mystery only deepened when a retired senior vet from Shropshire, Ken Tyrrell, who had been at the centre of the 1967/8 epidemic, suggested to his local MP, Owen Paterson, that he should look at the report of the official inquiry into that epidemic, published in 1969. This had been carried out under the chairmanship of a highly-respected figure in the farming world of that time, the Duke of Northumberland.

The Northumberland report, as Paterson was quick to pass on to his political and media contacts, was an eye-opener. It came to a series of very firm conclusions as to how any future FMD epidemic should be tackled. The most important factor for curbing the spread of the disease, it urged, was speed. As soon as animals were diagnosed by a local vet as being infected, they should be slaughtered on the same day. They should then be buried the same day, on the same farm, in quicklime to kill off any remaining infectivity. The contrast between all this and MAFF's policy in 2001 could not have been more striking. It was as if every one of Northumberland's central recommendations, derived from an exhaustive public inquiry and published only a year after the epidemic ended, had been not just ignored but stood on its head.

Only due to careful trawling through the website of the European Commission did the explanation for all these riddles emerge to public view. The reason why MAFF's strategy for tackling foot-and-mouth had so dramatically changed was that the British government was no longer in charge of policy on foot-and-mouth. The power to determine how the disease should be tackled had been handed over to Brussels back in the 1980s. It emerged that the procedures any member state should adopt to respond to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth were now laid out in detail in a European Community directive, 85/511. It was this directive which had turned the Northumberland report on its head, by requiring, for instance, that there should be delays in slaughtering suspected animals until samples had been taken and approval received from the ministry. And it was this directive which had set up the '3 kilometre protection zones' and '10 kilometre surveillance zones', which in the early days caused such confusion among MAFF officials, with their talk of 'two miles' and '10 miles' because these protocols laid down by Brussels were so unfamiliar to them.

Since the EU now had ultimate control over the response to any outbreak of FMD within its territory, the British government was obliged to act within the terms of the directive in everything it did. It was bound to consult with the EU at every stage, in particular with its immensely powerful Standing Veterinary Committee (made up of the chief vets from each of the 15 member states), and to seek EU and SVC approval for any new policy decision. And in no respect was the EU's influence more relevant than in its policy on the use of vaccination, enshrined in a further directive, 90/423, to which we shall return in detail in a later section.

For fuck's sake, can we leave yet?

Do read the whole report (although it is quite long); I bought it at the time of first release and was shaking with rage when only about half-way in. It is strange to contemplate how the government got away with so much during that time, breaking laws in a number of areas (not least in the very act of the "contiguous cull").

I wouldn't want to be a farmer right now.

UPDATE: EU Referendum has some more.

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