Report on Foot-and-Mouth Outbreak Faults Department's Contingency Planning

The Public Accounts Committee released a report in March on the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom which faulted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) for failing to have adequate contingency plans in place to deal with such an outbreak.

The last major outbreak of the disease had occurred in 1967, and in the intervening years lessons from that outbreak were lost or not followed in dealing with the 2001 outbreak.

DEFRA had considered the risk of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease low and its contingency plans assumed that there would be at most 10 affected farms at any one time. In fact, in the 2001 outbreak there were 27 farms that were initially affected by the outbreak.

Moreover, the it waited far too long to call in the Army to handle the outbreak — an error which also amplified the problems involved with the 1967 outbreak.

The report estimates that the outbreak cost Great Britain upwards of 5 billion pounds. Had the Army been brought in to enforce an immediate nationwide ban on livestock movement, the report estimates that the cost to British taxpayers for cleanup and compensation would have been only 1.5 billion pounds rather than the 3 billion pounds the government eventually ended up paying.

Additionally, the plan that the government finally put into place to deal with the outbreak focused on protecting the agricultural industry, but the majority of the financial losses were from the tourist industry after limitations on the movement of people were put in place. The report says that the blanket closure of footpaths for long periods of time was unnecessary and should not have been allowed.

Sources:

Public Accounts – Fifth Report. Public Accounts Committee, March 5, 2003.

FMD Epidemic of 2001 – costs and lessons. American Association of Swine Veterinarians, March 17, 2003.

Farm disease errors ‘inexcusable’. The BBC, March 14, 2003.

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