Foot-and-mouth divisions remain as anniversary looms

Image caption,
Thousands of animals were sent to their slaughter in the south of Scotland in an effort to control the foot-and-mouth outbreak 10 years ago

Opinion remains split in Scotland over the nation's ability to cope with foot-and-mouth as the 10th anniversary of a major outbreak approaches.

The outbreak, which began in February 2001, led to hundreds of thousands of animals being culled in Scotland.

Former NFU Scotland President Jim Walker said he believed an outbreak would "definitely happen again".

However, Chief Veterinary Officer Simon Hall said border checks had improved and controls had also been enhanced.

In 2001, Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders were the worst-affected areas.

The first cases of foot-and-mouth were confirmed in England but the disease spread to the south of Scotland in a matter of days.

Animals were killed and burned on giant pyres to try to stop the disease reaching the rest of the country.

The Army was called in to help the region cope with the crisis.

With the 10th anniversary approaching, former farming union leader Mr Walker maintains the controversial policy of culling animals around the areas known to be infected was the correct approach.

"It was definitely the right thing to do," he said.

"It was brutal, it was fairly horrible and none of us took any pleasure in doing it.

"But the industry got a chance to recover quicker - you could see that for months after we were clear of the disease, England were still struggling to take control of it."

However, he has doubts about whether a repeat outbreak would be dealt with in the same manner.

"Whether we could do it again like that is a different story," he said.

One of the main reasons he cites is that while Scotland has been given control over policy for animal health matters it does not have any budget.

"We are very vulnerable, it will definitely happen again," he said.

"We are more vulnerable now than we were three or four years ago.

"The border controls are almost non-existent and the way that international trade and food and people go we will definitely suffer disease infection again.

"It will be very difficult to carry the farming population and the country with us."

Veterinary chief Mr Hall believes steps have been taken to learn the lessons of 2001.

"We are doing more to keep foot-and-mouth out of the country," he said.

That includes tightened controls on imports of meat.

"As soon as we find foot-and-mouth anywhere in Great Britain in future we will then immediately stop all movements of animals," he added.

"Hopefully, then we have a smaller problem to deal with and we can take more targeted measures in only culling animals when it's necessary."

Border controls

He insisted that Scotland was well-placed to handle any problems which arose.

"In Scotland we have short lines of communication and good cooperation," he said.

"I think we would again be able to mount a very effective response if an emergency arose."

However, he recognised that the threat would remain with the disease still a problem around the world.

"It could happen at any time but it may not because our border controls are now improved and we have measures in place to stop it spreading so quickly," he said.

"I can't give an absolute reassurance.

"It is always possible that foot-and-mouth disease could come in at any time."

He said that if the disease did return then all groups would have to work together again to fight the outbreak in "the most efficient way" that they could at the time.

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