Victory for 'IoS' in foot and mouth campaign

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The Independent Online

In a victory for The Independent on Sunday, tough new European laws will next week force governments across the continent to prepare to vaccinate livestock immediately after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

In a victory for The Independent on Sunday, tough new European laws will next week force governments across the continent to prepare to vaccinate livestock immediately after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

The laws, in a new directive, mark the final vindication of a virtually lone campaign by this newspaper against the mass killing of six million animals in the epidemic three years ago. Yesterday Michael Meacher, one of the ministers in charge of fighting the epidemic, described them as "an enormous tribute to The Independent on Sunday".

Ministers, farmers' leaders and food companies - which all opposed vaccination during the epidemic - now accept that the slaughter should be minimised and that vaccination is likely to be used instead. And in another victory for the campaign, the Government has admitted that its wholesale closure of public footpaths, which devastated tourism, was "unnecessary and inappropriate".

The directive will come into force at the end of the month, and will be incorporated into British law later this year. It places a legal duty on all 25 EU governments "to prepare all arrangements necessary for emergency vaccination" immediately the first animal is found to have the disease.

It still requires a limited slaughter of animals found to have the disease or in immediate contact with infected livestock, but obliges governments to be ready to vaccinate at least within a 10km radius of an outbreak. It also suggests that the immunisation should be used where the disease could become widespread.

The Government, which is next week conducting a two-day exercise across Whitehall departments to test its contingency plans, says that the directive "moves vaccination to the forefront of disease-control strategies". Official documents make clear that it now considers immunisation to be "ideally suited" to dealing with epidemics, and that it would be "effective" in almost every scenario.

Ministers now have more than 10 million doses of vaccine stored in Britain in preparation for another outbreak, and have 50 teams supported by 25 vets to administer them.

The Government now says that in the case of a new epidemic it would aim to select a strategy "which minimises the number of animals that need to be slaughtered ... keeps animal welfare problems to a minimum ... and minimises the burden on taxpayers and the public at large".

The official contingency plan accepts that "there is no veterinary justification for closing all footpaths and preventing all public access to land", as happened during the 2001 epidemic,.

Mr Meacher said last night: "This is an enormous tribute to The Independent on Sunday, which tenaciously proposed measures that everyone now acknowledges to be right. It is a great tragedy that they were not put into operation earlier."

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