Foot and mouth 'has cost 20bn in lost business'
By David Brown and Charles Clover Friday 20 April 2001
FOOT and mouth has cost the economy 20 billion and the figure could double
if the epidemic drags on until July, the Institute of Directors said
It was the institute's bleakest assessment yet, as cases of the disease rose
by 15 to 1,400. But Prof David King, the Government's chief scientist,
pronounced the epidemic "fully under control". He said there had been a
significant drop in the daily number of cases over the past two weeks and
forecast that this would be down to one or two a day by the likely date of
the election on June 7.
Leading vets and farmers' leaders disagree. They expect the epidemic to last
far beyond July and perhaps until the end of the year. The institute, which
represents 54,000 businesses, said the Government faced a huge demand for
assistance across a wide spectrum of industry and commerce.
Agriculture apart, the worst hit sector was hotels, restaurants and
distribution companies, with transport and communication enterprises, it
said. The worst affected areas were the North East and Wales; least affected
were London and the South East.
The institute's survey attacked the Ministry of Agriculture's handling of
the crisis, particularly the long delays between diagnosis and culling. Ruth
Lea, the institute's policy director, said that many of its members were
seeking substantial Government aid.
"Support should include payment deferrals and rebates on VAT, rates and
taxes, as well as direct compensation for lost earnings and interest-free
loans." The Institute of Chartered Accountants called for a Government
means-tested hardship fund for affected businesses.
Giving his confident prediction, Prof King said: "On the basis of the fall
in the number of cases being reported, the epidemic now is fully under
control. If 14 days ago we had 40 infected premises, then today we should
have 20 and in two more weeks we should have 10."
The disease was not spreading quite as rapidly through livestock as four
computer models built for the ministry had originally shown, he said. In the
worst hit county of Cumbria and elsewhere, the policy of culling infected
livestock within 24 hours and animals on neighbouring farms within 48 hours
was working.
Prof King said the "R factor" - the number of new cases of the disease for
every old case - was now 0.7 in all the worst hit regions. A factor of more
than one would mean that the epidemic was growing. However, there was bound
to be a "bumpy ride" when cattle in barns were put out to pasture.
"I am not predicting that it is going to be a smooth ride downwards." Prof
King said that, as the epidemic came under control, it was imperative that
curbs remained on the movement of people and animals. "We have to keep very,
very vigilant."
Vaccination was still being considered as an option to reduce the number of
cattle which had to be slaughtered in Cumbria and Devon, but Prof King
stressed that this was to complement and not replace the cull policy.
The Government has placed an advertisement in today's Farmers' Weekly,
seeking to reassure farmers that there is no risk to human health through
vaccine entering the human food chain. The advertisement says that milk and
other products produced where vaccination has taken place can be marketed
under certain controls and that the Government is "listening very carefully
about how vaccination might affect trade".
Prof King said that vaccinated livestock would not be allowed to enter the
food chain for 30 days after the first inoculation. Such a scheme would most
likely concentrate initially on cattle in Devon, where the grass grows
earlier. Prof King ruled out the vaccination of fell sheep, saying that the
process of rounding up the sheep increased the risk of spreading the
Prof King said he had advised Tony Blair that vaccination of cattle should
go ahead only if it did not interfere with the cull policy and if the
farming community agreed to it. He indicated that there was some movement
among reluctant farmers: "The misunderstanding of both sides over
vaccinations has now been removed."
Elliot Morley, the agriculture minister, said: "Vaccination is more in the
frame than it was, but we are dealing with a mindset with vets and farmers."
Tim Yeo, the Tories' agriculture spokesman, said: "We hope very much that
Prof King turns out to be right. However, if you are a farmer with some of
the 570,000 animals currently awaiting slaughter on your farm, you may doubt
whether the crisis is yet under control."
The campaign against the disease suffered a major setback when the Welsh
Assembly said that 15,000 sheep buried on an Army firing range would have to
be dug up and burned because they had caused pollution.
The mass burial of sheep at the Epynt range near Sennybridge in mid-Wales
was stopped by Carwyn Jones, the rural affairs minister, after Ministry of
Agriculture scientists found evidence of blood and body fluids in a test
borehole 100 yards from the disposal site 10 days after it became
The site, the focus of protests by residents, has been used for burying the
carcasses of animals culled from farms adjacent to infected properties,
sometimes more than 80 miles away. Cattle have always been burned at the
site because of the risk of BSE, but sheep and pigs have been buried.
The Epynt site sits on the catchments of the rivers Usk and Towy, two of the
cleanest rivers in Europe and both renowned as fisheries for salmon and
trout. Ammonia was found in a stream that feeds into the Towy, but the
Environment Agency said there had been no detectable effect on the river.
Last night, parts of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire had their "infected
areas" designation lifted. These were the first infected areas where this
had happened, a Maff spokesman said.