The Daily Telegraph, 20 April 2001, p. 6.
VETS LEADER CRITICISES CARNAGE BY COMPUTER
By Sandra Barwick
VETS have accused the Prime Minister of having healthy animals slaughtered
"without rhyme or reason" as a result of relying on the advice of scientists
without veterinary qualifications.
"Unproven computer predictions" of the disease's flow were driving
government policy on foot and mouth, according to a letter signed by 40 vets
in Dumfries and Galloway, the second hardest-hit area in Britain.
The vets denounced the policy as "a savage attack on what livestock remains"
in a letter sent to 10 Downing Street. Roger Windsor, who is on the council
of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and has been working for the
Ministry of Agriculture in Scotland, said yesterday: "The reason I'm a
veterinary surgeon is that I wanted to save life - not to go around killing
Mr Windsor, who worked during the 1967 epidemic, said he and his colleagues
fully approved of the slaughter of infected animals and genuinely dangerous
contacts. But the risk needed to be assessed rationally in each case by vets
who understood both farming and the area in which the animals were kept.
He said: "What has happened is that the Prime Minister has taken those
decisions away from vets and put in place the chief scientist and a
professor of epidemiology. Neither has any veterinary training."
The rigid policy of slaughtering on "contiguous" farms despite special
circumstances incensed him and his colleagues. He said: "It is not justice
any more. It is political expediency."
There had been cases in Cumbria of healthy sheep being slaughtered within
the three-kilometre zone five weeks after the last case of foot and mouth in
the area, because the ministry was so behind on its slaughter policy. This
would be well after any incubation period.
Farmers in Cumbria had been told that their only hope of having their sheep
spared was if their vet witnessed that they had been "isolated and in high
levels of bio-security from the end of February". The protest by Scottish
vets follows a warning from 50 vets in Devon that the county was on the
verge of "civil war" over the handling of the epidemic.
Mr Windsor said he had been particularly angered by the case of Peter and
Mary Buckley, who farm in Eskdalemuir, in Dumfries and Galloway. One
thousand of their hefted black face sheep, showing no trace of the disease,
were slaughtered on Wednesday against the Buckleys' will.
An adjoining farm five miles away across the hills had been struck by the
disease. Only a very small corner of their land, about a hundred yards deep,
fell within the three-kilometre zone. That corner is on very high, boggy
land, protected by a 1,200ft drop on the neighbour's side.
Ron Weir, the farm manager, said that at this time of the year the pregnant
ewes remained in the sheltered land at the bottom of the glen, as did the
neighbouring sheep in the valley bottom on the other side. Mr Buckley said
the sheep were at least 100 yards apart and protected by the natural barrier
of the hill.
Mr Weir added: "We put feeding blocks down in the glen by the burn for the
sheep. They go a wee bit up but at this time of the year you would not see
them on the boggy land on the tops." There is still some snow on the tops
and there were hailstones there yesterday.
Mr Buckley, chairman of Caledonia Investments, lost his application for a
judicial review in Edinburgh on Monday. He said he "felt as though he was
living in a police state" because of the great difficulties in getting
expert witnesses, all of whom appeared to be working for the Ministry of
Agriculture or government bodies.
He now faced having to decide whether to attempt to re-heft the hills with
sheep that would eventually stick to their own territory. He may have to do
it with sheep that were not resistant to the local ticks and the whole
process could take between five and 10 years.
Mr Weir said as he stood on the hill above the empty valley: "Wednesday was
a horrendous day for everyone and it will be for a long time."