Farmer 'not to blame for foot-and-mouth outbreak'

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The Independent Online

A pig farmer whose premises were identified as the source of last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak cannot take the blame for causing the epidemic that devastated British agriculture, a court was told yesterday.

The trial of the farmer, Bobby Waugh, would not establish the origin of the disease, Paddy Cosgrove QC, for the prosecution, told South East Northumberland magistrates' court when the case against the farmer was outlined.

"There is no charge either laid against Mr Waugh, nor available to be made, which can make such an allegation," Mr Cosgrove said. "The issue where the outbreak started is irrelevant to your deliberation."

Instead, Mr Waugh's culpability in the national epidemic, the prosecution claims, was his failure to report classic foot-and-mouth symptoms to the authorities when the symptoms materialised 12 days before the epidemic took hold. His decision to ignore tell-tale lesions, later discovered in 80 per cent of his 527 pigs, meant that diseased animals were transported from his Northumberland tenant farm to an Essex abattoir, where they were detected as diseased.

Even if Mr Waugh had lacked the knowledge to diagnose the disease, he had sufficient experience to "observe the signs and to take the necessary steps to seek advice and find out what was wrong with them", Mr Cosgrove told the court in Bedlington. "Those steps were never taken."

There was also substantial evidence of animals being fed untreated pigswill – a practice banned 20 years ago because it could spread disease.

Mr Waugh, of Pallion, Sunderland, denies 16 charges: five of failing to notify officials of a foot-and-mouth outbreak, four of cruelty to animals, one of taking unprocessed catering waste to premises where pigs are kept, one of feeding unprocessed waste to pigs, four of failing to dispose of animal by-products and one of failing to record the movement of pigs.

All the offences are alleged to have been committed in February last year. Charges against Mr Waugh's brother have been left on file because he is terminally ill. Mr Cosgrove said that, as a farmer of 40 years' experience, Mr Waugh "must have known" many of his pigs were suffering from the disease yet "he didn't take the steps required by law".

The outbreak was detected on 19 February last year and traced back to Mr Waugh's farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall via infected, fattened pigs he had sent to Cheale Meats, an abattoir in Essex.

When Ministry of Agriculture officials arrived on the Waughs' premises on 22 February both brothers said there was "nothing wrong with their pigs". But inspection two days later revealed lesions up to 12 days old.

The epidemic went on to cause the slaughter of 3.9 million cattle nationally, 376,125 of them in Mr Waugh's native North-east at a cost to that region of £200m.

Mr Waugh was licensed to feed his animals with swill that had been heated to 93C for two hours but inspectors found only untreated swill. Even after foot-and-mouth was detected in sheds full of pigs, the animals were fed unprocessed waste for a final meal before slaughter, the court was told.

Inspectors also found rotten animal carcasses in piles of slurry, barrels full of raw animals pieces and even discovered the hind leg of a pig, sticking up from a pile of plastic bags.

If convicted, Mr Waugh faces a £5,000 fine for each offence or a maximum six-month ban on keeping animals. The trial, which has been brought by Northumberland County Council trading standards department, continues today.

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