Maff 'hiding behind law to conceal true picture'
By David Brown, Agriculture Editor
Telegraph May 2001
THE Ministry of Agriculture is using the Data Protection Act to block
information on the numbers and types of most animals culled due to foot and
mouth disease, it emerged yesterday.

Even parliamentary candidates are being refused statistical information of
culls on contiguous farms close to confirmed outbreaks in their own

David Curry, former chairman of the Select Committee for Agriculture, who is
seeking re-election as Tory MP for Skipton and Ripon, said he had been
unable to obtain information on numbers of cattle and sheep culled at the
burgeoning foot and mouth "hot spot" in North Yorkshire and Lancashire known
as the Settle Rectangle.

Seventeen outbreaks have been confirmed and livestock on at least 65 other
contiguous farms have been, or are being, culled as well. So far more than
50,000 livestock have been slaughtered. But that number was set to soar as
the ministry began a cull of 16,000 animals on Malham Moor, one of the most
beautiful and popular parts of North Yorkshire.

The total number of confirmed outbreaks rose to 1,629 yesterday, an increase
of four on the previous day. Mr Curry said the ministry was not providing
details of animals culled on individual farms. Local ministry officials have
been ordered not to divulge these details because they would infringe the
Data Protection Act. He said: "I cannot see in withholding this information
on the total number of animals being slaughtered what personal information
is being protected."

Tony Blair denied yesterday that he ever said the outbreak was over. He
said: "What we said was that the number of cases were coming down very
considerably, as they obviously have done. But we also warned at the time
that there would carry on being some cases of foot and mouth and that it was
vitally important that people carry on taking the measures of security and
safety to make sure the disease does not spread."

Jim Scudamore, the Government chief vet, said the Settle Rectangle episode
was being taken "very seriously". "We are trying to track down the common
link between all of the cases. It is a very serious outbreak."

While farmers voiced "gratitude and respect" for the efforts of local
ministry operatives, constituents were complaining about a mounting wall of
silence on the epidemic. The ministry confirmed that it did not issue
details of animals culled on individual contiguous holdings. "We have got to
balance the right of privacy of individual farmers and their commercial
activities with the need of other farmers to know the scale of the action we
are taking."

Tim Yeo, shadow agriculture minister, said: "It shows how terrified Tony
Blair is of the truth about foot and mouth coming out before polling day.
Attempts to use the Data Protection Act to hide the facts are a hideous
abuse of power."

Landowners and rural businessmen accused the Government of hiding the true
picture. The Country Land and Business Association said: "Government is
covering up the true scale of foot and mouth disease."

Anthony Bosanquet, the association president, said: "Foot and mouth has not
gone away as the Government wants us to believe. The plight of farmers and
rural businesses hit by the disease is a terrible problem which must be
addressed now, not put on hold until after the election."

Richard Dennis, an auctioneer and valuer at Hallworthy, north Cornwall, said
the ministry was failing to record confirmed outbreaks on suspect farms even
after sick livestock culled there were tested.