Chaos as cull is set to be shot down in Europe's courts

Daily Express 19 April, 2001



THE foot-and-mouth cull was in chaos last night over fears the slaughter of healthy animals may be illegal.

Lawyers believe the Ministry of Agriculture have exceeded their powers by slaughtering animals showing no signs of the disease.

Some farmers are preparing to barricade their gates against vets coming to cull their stock.

Vets have already backed off at one farm in Devon after being threatened with legal action if they tried to cull the healthy herd.

Organic dairy farmer Matthew Knight, from South Moulton in Devon, said: "I'll blockade my farm and padlock my gates to keep the Ministry out and I have EU law on my side."

The threats of legal and direct action came as the Government faced another pitchfork rebellion over vaccinations for cattle.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has backed limited use of a vaccine but the National Farmers Union insisted there were still unanswered questions and refuse to support it. Farmers are divided over the issue.

The deadlock came as government advisers said half of the 180,000 at-risk animals in Cumbria - where the vaccination would be used - could be saved from slaughter.

In Devon, farmers are mounting protests against slaughter and are threatening to take legal action against the Government.

Farmer Hector Christie, who owns Tapeley Park estate near Barnstaple, North Devon, began the revolt two weeks ago to protect his pedigree Highland Cattle and rare Berkshire pigs.

He said: "The lawyers tell me they have no right to come on to private property to kill per

fectly healthy cattle. MAFF say they want to do so but I have padlocked my gate today and I will defy them. I have the law on my side as long as my cattle are healthy."

The Ministry of Agriculture admit that if a farmer stands in their way they would have to go to the High Court to take out an injunction.

A cull at Christopher Baldwin's farm in South Moulton was stopped halfway through after he rang his solicitors, who warned off the vets.

Mr Baldwin, 59, who has run a 140-acre farm for the last 30 years, said the vets had given him the all-clear-- a day before they arrived to slaughter his animals. MAFF are in legal negotiations with Mr Baldwin's solicitors over the cull.

Agriculture lawyer Alayne Addy believes-the Government is exceeding its powers by enforcing the cull in Devon.

Chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore yesterday backed a vaccination policy. He said it could protect animals, "dampen down" the disease and reduce the number of carcasses to be dealt with.

Professor David King, the Government chief scientific adviser, admitted the scheme would only be workable if farmers supported it.

"The current cull policy is still our policy for dealing with the epidemic," he said. "But as a supplement to this I have recommended vaccination could be introduced on a limited basis, in particular looking at Cumbria and possibly, Devon for cattle, many of which are still in winter sheds."

Last night MAFF admitted that under foot-and-mouth EU directives, they cannot cull healthy animals. However a spokesman for MAFF said EU legislation covering vets dealing with the disease allowed "protective measures" . to be taken. Lawyers for MAFF could rely on that to justify the slaughter.

The Food Standards Agency said yesterday that virtually all milk and meat in Britain's supermarkets comes from animals that have received a battery of vaccinations. It said 33 vaccines are routinely used on farm animals in Britain.

FSA chairman Sir John Krebs said: "The message on vaccination is that milk or meat from vaccinated animals would not constitute a food safety risk."

A spokesman for the Soil Association, which promotes chemical and pesticide-free farming, said: "There's no reason why animals that have been vaccinated should not go into the food chain."

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SURVIVORS: Farmer Christopher Baldwin and stock he saved after he sought legal help to stop the culling.

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VICTIMS: Mr Baldwin with slaughtered animals