Minister and chief vet face blame in report on foot-and-mouth epidemic

By Andrew Griceand Steve Connor
Friday 15 November 2013 05:16
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Ministers are bracing themselves for a highly critical report on foot-and-mouth which they expect will single out for criticism Nick Brown, the former agriculture minister, now Minister for Work, and Jim Scudamore, the Government's chief veterinary officer.

Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, will outline the Government's initial response to the Anderson report in a Commons statement this afternoon. She will promise action to ensure lessons are learnt from last year's epidemic. The inquiry, chaired by Iain Anderson, a former Unilever scientist and adviser to Tony Blair, was meant to identify where the country went wrong in dealing with the epidemic, in which more than four million animals were culled at a cost of £2.7bn.

A central criticism of the 200-page report from the Lessons Learned inquiry is expected to be that ministers made a "primary mistake" by not calling in the Army to control the outbreak within the first week of animals being found with foot-and-mouth disease at an abattoir in Essex in February last year.

The study will say that in the event of a new outbreak, military help to take charge of measures to tackle the disease must be enlisted immediately ­ the same recommendation made by the official government inquiry after the 1967/8 outbreak. Last year, Army logistics experts were not called in to oversee the cull in the worst hit areas of Cumbria and Devon until 20 March, almost a month after the first case.

Mr Brown and the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) are also likely to be criticised for cuts in provision for animal health protection by reducing the state veterinary service as well as underestimating the scale of the outbreak.

Mr Scudamore will face uncomfortable questions about a 1999 report by a government vet warning that Maff would struggle to cope in the event of a simultaneous outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in several places.

The Tories will urge Mrs Beckett to give a full explanation of the Government's handling of the outbreak. David Lidington, the Tory environment spokesman, said yesterday: "Mr Blair has refused to hold a proper public inquiry. It is profoundly unsatisfactory that ministers and officials only gave evidence [to the Anderson inquiry] in secret."

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