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Foot & Mouth farmer banned from keeping animals – and new disease outbreak is confirmed

THE FARMER whose farm was traced as the source of last year’s foot and mouth crisis was sentenced last week to be electronically tagged for three months.

The details and timing of Bobby Waugh’s sentence for failing to report the first signs of the epidemic, which cost £8 billion and led to the slaughter of more than ten million animals, could not have been more ironic.

The Government also announced that the national tracing scheme for pigs, involving tags and daubs of paint, had failed to locate the farmer who last week sent to market a pig suspected of being infected with foot and mouth.

In a further twist, six pigs at Cheale Meats, the abattoir at Brentwood in Essex where foot and mouth was first diagnosed last year, have tested positive for Aujeszky’s disease, which kills pigs, cattle, sheep, cats, dogs and rats. If the disease - not seen in Britain since 1989 - is confirmed, live pig exports will be banned.

Although a vaccine exists, the culling of every herd of pigs that came into contact with the six diseased animals would be the most likely next step, said Stewart Royston, Chief Executive of the National Pig Association. “Another animal disease is the last thing we need. It would be a severe economic setback,” he said.

Bobby Waugh, 56, appearing at South East Northumberland magistrates’ court, was also banned from rearing pigs, cattle, sheep and goats for 15 years and ordered to pay £10,000 costs. At a previous hearing, the farmer who ran a pig fattening farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland with his brother, Ronald, was found guilty of five charges.

The electronic tagging order will confine him to his cottage in Pallion, Sunderland, between 8pm and 7am.

Waugh had always maintained that he had been made a scapegoat for the outbreak which was officially confirmed in February 2001. Various rumours and theories arose soon afterwards that the disease may have been recorded elsewhere, possibly as early as December 2000, and that Waugh was ‘chosen’ as the source, due to his farm having previously
been the subject of an RSPCA investigation.

It was claimed that MAFF, who were then responsible for the control of Foot and Mouth may have identified an FMD outbreak two months before the first ‘official’ case was announced in Heddon-on-the-Wall.

The Army confirmed that it was approached by the Government over contingency plans to deal with a foot and mouth outbreak three days before the outbreak was officially announced in the UK.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed that MAFF had contacted the Army headquarters at Copthorne Barracks, Shrewsbury, on February 16th. Plans about how to deal with foot-and-mouth, including mass slaughter and sealing off farmland, were discussed at the meeting 72 hours before the first outbreak was confirmed at Cheale Meats abattoir, Essex, on February 19th.

The MoD spokesman said that such meetings were held every six months as a matter of routine, mainly to maintain resources. However, he could not confirm the dates of any previous meetings.

Further evidence that an outbreak of FMD had been detected as early as December and ‘contained’ by MAFF came to light when it emerged that MAFF officials had approached numerous timber merchants around the country for firewood several weeks before the disease ‘officially’ arrived.

MAFF insisted that such approaches to timber merchants were also a matter of routine and a way of ascertaining resources in the event of an outbreak. However, some of the timber merchants phoned by unnamed officials said that they had not heard from the Ministry since the last outbreak of FMD 34 years ago.

Despite the introduction of strict rules, introduced to prevent a repeat of last year’s outbreak, DEFRA said last week that its officials had been unable to trace the owner of the pig at the centre of last week’s foot and mouth scare.

The pig came from one of 34 Yorkshire farms and passed through Selby market before being spotted at an abattoir at Congerstone in Leicestershire. Tests eventually proved negative but none of the farmers would admit to owning the pig.

Elliot Morley, animal health minister, called the breach “amazing” and said it raised serious questions. “The rules appear not to have been followed. I am frankly amazed that, after the terrible experience of last year, some people don’t seem to have learned from this.”