Beds, Herts & Bucks

President of NFU recalls foot-and-mouth outbreak

Peter Kendall, President of the NFU
Image caption Peter Kendall says foot-and-mouth was a "really low moment" for British agriculture

The President of the National Farmers' Union Peter Kendall has recalled the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001 which devastated farming communities across the UK.

During the outbreak, which began in February 2001, more than 10 million animals were slaughtered and the Army was called in to help with the cull and the clear-up operation.

Footpaths, bridleways and national parks were closed and vehicle wheels sprayed with disinfectant to limit the spread of the virus.

'Low moment'

Mr Kendall, who is a farmer in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, said it had been a very bad time for British farming but that things were slowly getting better and there were a lot of positives about the future.

"It was a really low moment for the whole of British agriculture because of the negative images that it conveyed to the people - our customers - who we needed to be supporting us and buying our products," he said.

"It was a really low period, one where people just thought that the countryside was probably poisoned and dangerous and a nasty place to go and I'm really glad we've moved on from that."

Mr Kendall admits that he was lucky because he was predominantly an arable farmer.

"Around the country I think we lost around 3,500 farmers and across the industry there were over 10,000 workers laid off," he said.

"It had a massive impact."

Britain has always had a policy of "slaughtering out" disease, but in 2001, as the number of cases rose, some farmers began to feel vaccination may be a better option.

Mr Kendall revealed that if there were to be another outbreak, then he believes that vaccination would play a part.

"We've got better technology now to work out whether animals have been vaccinated or not," he explained.

"The law has changed within Europe about how we can handle vaccination and I'm convinced that vaccination would have a role in a future outbreak if it occurred.

"We've moved on 10 years, we're smarter and we've got better tools in our armoury to tackle this.

"It wouldn't probably be just vaccination, I'm sure it would be a combination and there might be some circumstances where vaccination wouldn't work.

Image caption Disinfectant was put at the entrance to Whipsnade Zoo during the foot-and-mouth outbreak

"But those ghastly images of the funeral pyres across the British countryside is a low point that I hope we never ever go back to."

'Strong global markets'

He also admitted that while recovery has been slow, the future is looking positive for the industry.

"The livestock numbers haven't actually increased from that low point.

"But we are now starting to see, not only consumers being more interested in where food is coming from, but also pretty strong global markets for agricultural commodities.

"The developing world is growing at a tremendous pace, they can't produce food around the world fast enough so we're seeing milk prices on the increase globally and we're seeing red meat prices even in places like Uruguay and Brazil rising.

"Some of the riots we've seen in the Middle East are down to food price inflation, so the industry's got more optimism about the fact that we're going to be needed in the future.

"People are investing and they are looking at ways they can increase production on their farming businesses, but it's taken a long time to get back from that low point of 2001."

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