Monday, August 06, 2007

Not FMD again - please

The countryside is holding its breath. We are living in the shadow of death and destruction that is Foot and Mouth Disease. We are all praying that this weekend's outbreak will be confined to the small corner of England where Derrick Pride farms - the small corner which is also home to the animal diseases centres at Pirbright.

Just did an interview for Good Morning Wales on the issue - on the telephone from Kew, which is quite near to the outbreak. In Wales, at present there is a focus on the impact and cost of the restrictions which have been imposed. I accept that this is an issue, but its not the main one. These costs and inconveniences are as nothing compared with what will happen if we have a new case confirmed today in Cumbria, or Devon, or Wales. Because the sheer horror of what happened in 2001 is still so fresh in our minds, we all know that the Government is doing what must be done. In 2001, I lambasted the Government for its incompetence from Day 1. This time, I have no complaints - so far. Clearly, lessons have been learnt since the incredible and shameful bungling that occurred then.

All fingers seem to be pointing in the direction of the Institute of Animal Health and the Merial Research Centre at Pirbright, just a short distance away from Derrick Pride's now silent acres. The coincidences are almost irresistable. As shocking as it would be to discover that Pirbright was the source of the infection, it is now every country lover's hope that it turns out to be so. And that there have been no movements from the farm which might have carried the infection elsewhere.

I have lived through two previous outbreaks of FMD that ran out of control. The first was in 1967, which began about 15 miles from our family farm, and 2001, where every animal on all the farms surrounding Cil Farm, our home, were slaughtered. I will never forget sitting out in the garden hearing rifle shooting and watching plumes of smoke marking the site of every farm between me and the horizon. And I remember the silence that followed - all summer. No cattle or sheep. Just an eerie silence for months on end. I learned a lot about birdsong in 2001. Our problems arose from not having any animals at Cil Farm - which would have been culled. We had all the animals on another farm when the disease struck in the spring, just prior to moving everything out to outlying land. So we had animals where there was not enough grass, and grass going to waste everywhere else. In financial terms, we were badly hit - but I didn't have to suffer the trauma of seeing all our livestock slaughtered. For weeks, I lived with the diseae as all sorts of people telephoned looking for help and advice - and sometimes just to talk. It was a terrible experience.

The countryside is holding its breath and hoping that we are not going to see a repeat.


Anonymous said...

Hopefully this is not going to be another major disaster. Whether it is or not it will be interesting one day to find out if the Prime Minister's early and high profile involvement was part of the contingency planning or just the new version of Blairite spin management.

AS an ex civil servant with some experience of emergency planning (always underfunded and never given the importance it merited) one of the worst things was when ministers mucscled in on an emergency and peppered commands round the place that overruled or disrupted such plns as there were. In some cases this might be neccessary - the last FMD outbreak, where contingency plans appeared to be utterly inadequate - but I've seen political factors - either desire for positive headlines or fear of neccessary but tough measures - completely disrupt reasonably well laid plans.

Perhaps one day when the crisis is over someone might use the FoI Act to find whether the PM was supposed to be chairing the CCU/"Cobra" meetings - or whether they were supposed to be chaired by someone who actually knew about the plans!

Roman Jones said...

Surely farmers will be compensated for any losses due to slaughter, as they were last time - often achieving a better price per head than they would get at market? Also, why do the farmers get upset when their herds are culled? Surely that is the fate of the cattle anyway in the abatoir? Why don't we inject all our herds like they do in Germany and France?

Glyn Davies said...

anon - I feel that the Prime Minister has got it about right, even if there do seem to be one or two odd things happening. He has to back the scientific advice.

Roman - you make a fair point about compensation, but for many farmers, their animals are a big part of their lives and in many cases the herd is the product of generations breeding. Cannot respond to your vaccination point briefly - but I do think it will feature in the control measures if the disease gets out of hand - but every vaccinated animal will have to be slaughtered if we are going to be able to export.