Cull of 6.5m animals 'may not have affected' spread of foot-and-mouth

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The Independent Online

Britain's handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic faced devastating criticism last night when an inquiry concluded that the culling of more than 6.5 million animals many have played no real role in curbing the spread of the disease.

Britain's handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic faced devastating criticism last night when an inquiry concluded that the culling of more than 6.5 million animals many have played no real role in curbing the spread of the disease.

Draft conclusions from a committee of MEPs lists sweeping criticisms of government policy and suggests that, in future, vaccination should be considered much earlier in an outbreak.

In particular the document argued that the controversial culling policy may, in effect, have been unnecessary.

"It remains controversial and doubtful whether the 24/48 hours contiguous cull strategy was really responsible for curbing the epidemic [halting the increase in the number of cases and bringing about a decrease]," the document stated. "Apart from any other consideration, in many cases it proved impossible to carry out the culls on neighbouring farms within 48 hours."

The conclusions of the rapporteur of the parliament's temporary committee, Wolfgang Kreissl-Dörfler, make frank criticisms of the Government's handling of the outbreak, which brought economic devastation to much of the countryside.

Among other issues it highlights the poor quality of contingency planning, the delay in calling in the Army, and the lack of information and of resources deployed to combat the crisis.

Neil Parish, the agricultural spokesman for the Conservatives in the European Parliament, said: "This report represents explosive evidence that the Government just got it wrong with the foot-and-mouth crisis in the UK. The report contains more criticism of the UK government than of all other governments put together. Their stubbornness at the time of the crisis hasn't changed, they still refuse to listen to the needs of our rural communities."

MEPs have spent months inquiring into the outbreak across Europe and made visits to the affected areas.

Although the report concluded that the UK could not have predicted the scale of the outbreak, it argued that contingency plans should have included "options for action if the reality were to prove even worse than the assumed 'worst-case' scenario."

It added that, in retrospect, "an immediate nationwide ban on transporting FMD-susceptible animals would have been appropriate when the first case of FMD was detected in the United Kingdom", although it accepted that "large sections of the population would have considered this disproportionate at the time".

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