ITNJoanna Lumley leads cull protest

Actress Joanna Lumley has criticised the Government's handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis and called for an immediate end to the policy of mass slaughter.

The Absolutely Fabulous star said the public had been misled over the possibilities for halting the outbreak.

"We were informed that slaughter is the only option - it's not," she told a crowd of several hundred animal rights protesters at Downing Street.

"The truth is, vaccination today is the only way out of this hideous crisis. It is the only way we as a country can stand up and be counted.

"I secretly feel ashamed that it has taken us so long to get to this stage when the Dutch in only a few days have simply risen up and said we won't have it."

She said Britons had a tendency to trust the Government if it said things were being done. "The feeling now is that we cannot believe them. We must take this matter into our own democratic hands."

Opponents of vaccination say that it would cripple the exports market by ending Britain's disease-free status.

But Lumley said that as our largest trade in meat and milk was within the European Union the economic costs would be minimised.

Lumley joined with singer Lynsey De Paul and members of Compassion in World Farming to hand a giant letter to Downing Street demanding an end to the mass slaughter policy.

Ms De Paul said she had watched the crisis unfold with a feeling of "total helplessness".

"The pathetic sight of funeral pyres of healthy slaughtered animals when the disease itself does not kill and when vaccination had always been an option has left me bewildered and very angry."

Joyce D'Silva, director of CIWF, said the cost to the tourism industry of the foot-and-mouth crisis was far greater than the possible loss to the exports industry if vaccination was introduced.

"We want vaccination now as an emergency measure, but also for the longer term. Foot-and-mouth is going to come back again and again and we simply can't have scenes as we've seen over the country for the last few weeks again and again."

Publisher-turned-organic farmer Peter Kindersley, who last month mounted and later dropped a High Court challenge against the Government's slaughter policy, also gave his support to the pro-vaccination rally.

"The Government's beginning to proclaim a success. A success for what? They have killed almost two million animals already and it has cost 20 billion. If we keep going until July it will cost 40 billion. It is vital we introduce vaccinations immediately."