AS we predicted yesterday, the Government's handling of last year's foot and mouth disaster came under savage indictment from the enquiry led by businessman and scientist Dr Iain Anderson.
Today's Yorkshire Post sums up the enquiry's lengthy report as "an astonishing story of panic, incompetence and haphazard decision making" - a view shared widely by the media and farming organisations.
And some of the report's findings, under the heading of Lessons to be Learned, are frankly astonishing - like, for instance, its inability to establish exactly who ordered the highly contentious "continuous cull" policy, which led to the slaughter of an extra five million farm animals, the vast majority of which were later found to be free of the disease.
The report admits that it had been unable to trace the origins of the policy in the now disbanded Ministry of Agriculture and notes that the policy just seems to have "emerged."
Never-the-less, in the Craven area of the Yorkshire Dales alone, 416 contiguous farms were culled - most of them unnecessarily - against 102 proved to be infected, taking the total death toll in livestock to well over half a million.
Sadly, most country folk are only too well aware of other MAFF cock-ups that turned crisis into calamity - indeed, they were highlighted by Daelnet in our daily reports at the time. They include:
- Delays in imposing animal movements restrictions in the crucial early days of the outbreak
- Delays of more than a month before the Army was brought in
- The lack of any effective contingency plan despite the fact that there had been no fewer than four previous enquiries calling for such planning
- The hurried decision to "close down the countryside," which was later rescinded but not before it had forced hundreds of rural businesses - some of them in the Dales - into bankruptcy
- And resistance by farmers and major supermarkets to a "ring-fencing" vaccination policy - which could have isolated confirmed outbreaks and prevented contiguous culls - because the food industry said it would not buy meat from vaccinated animals.
The farming organisations received the report with a gloomy acceptance. "The findings have only confirmed what everyone closely involved with last year's rural catastrophe knew at the time," said Douglas Chalmers, north west regional director of the CLA.
The NFU President, Yorkshire farmer Ben Gill, said that there had been a widespread failure within Government to respond quickly enough to the disease in the early days, compounded by the lack of an effective contingency plan.
"We are pleased that this inquiry has reported so quickly. It is now vital that we apply the lessons learned and that the Government gives a clear commitment to provide sufficient resources to deal effectively with animal diseases in the future", he said.
Dr Anderson is making no fewer than 80 recommendations on how to improve the country's defences against future outbreaks of animal disease and Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says that the Government has already accepted most of them.
They include plans for ring-fencing vaccination programmes!