Figures ‘fiddled’

MAFF official toll masks true scale of cull, claim farmers

 Farmers Guardian 25 May 2001

 THE Ministry of Agriculture faced a barrage of accusations this week that it has ‘fiddled’ foot-and-mouth disease slaughter figures to suit Labour’s electoral ambitions.

Since FG has spelt out — most recently last week — farmers’ long held suspicions that the slaughter toll was being significantly under reported the Ministry has been accused of using the Data Protection Act to conceal the true scale of slaughter.

And individual farmers have provided compelling evidence that official figures fall far short of the actual cull.

John Henderson, of Coniston Cold, Skipton and a past president of Yorkshire CLA, told FG a neighbouring farm to his was confirmed on Saturday and took with it, by contiguous cull, nine other farms. Another farm at Austwick took with it 18 farms.

On the Ministry website there is mention of only the one initial farm in each case, with no mention of the other nine or 18 farms and that, said Mr Henderson, gives no idea of the scale of what is happening.

Many similar reports have been given to FG by farmers who have contacted us over the last seven days. They have been angered too by official assertions that the cull so far is equivalent to only five weeks’ normal abattoir throughput. That assertion fails to recognise that many of the foot-and-mouth cull animals have been valued breeding stock which farmers will find it difficult, if not impossible, to replace.

Mr Henderson said: "It said our farm, which went on Saturday had 215 cattle, 550 sheep and 950 lambs, but actually, if you add the lot up (from the other farms) there will be at least 700 dairy cattle, at least a similar number or slightly fewer beef cattle, at least 2,000 sheep and the lambs which go with them.

"What MAFF is not doing is giving details of the contiguous culls. We know they have got the figures because they have been here. We have all had our valuations done on the site and the numbers, were agreed, so I don’t understand why the information cannot be made readily available as confirmed cases.

"The website said the farm which went down has about 300 acres, but taking them all together, including the contiguous, it’s more like 2,500 acres.

"It’s masking the true scale of what is happening. We realised last week this had all the nasties of a second Cumbria and we realised the potential scale was not being recognised publicly. It’s clearly politically very inconvenient for this to be happening at this time.

"For the leader of the country to have said ‘it’s all cleared up’ led people to believe the countryside was opening again. There are stories of people walking along roads seeing animals being loaded on lorries and then complaining about it.

"If people are told the countryside is open by the leader of the country they have every right to believe it, but it’s not helping and we can do without this kind of conflict."

Mr Henderson’s take on the official figures has been supported by a large number of farmers who have contacted FG over the last seven days.

They say the figures, particularly in Cumbria, are wholly inaccurate. They say thousands of ewes and lambs, slaughtered under the voluntary cull before the contiguous cull was introduced have simply not been registered and that lambs are not even in the count as they are not considered to he full livestock units.

David Curry seeking re-election as MP for Skipton and Ripon said this week that Ministry officials had declined to provide him with detailed figures, citing the Data Protection Act for their reluctance.