By staging a nationwide experiment this week to test new ways of dealing with a future outbreak, officials were finally acknowledging the fact that virtually all country folk know: that the last outbreak was much worse than it should have been because of panic, mismanagement and incompetence.
Today’s experiment, involving officials from several Government departments, will be based on the assumption that four separate outbreaks of the disease have been confirmed in various parts of the country.
Decisions to be made will include an instant ban on all livestock movements – the 2001 outbreak was spread around the country because livestock marts continued to operate after the first outbreaks – and whether or not to introduce vaccination rather than animal slaughter on a huge scale.
Three years ago, some six million animals were slaughtered, buried or burned in horrific scenes shown on television worldwide – which almost destroyed Britain’s tourist industry.
The Yorkshire Dales were particularly badly hit, with scores of farms cleared and dozens of small tourism-linked businesses driven into bankruptcy. Many of those which survived are only now paying off back taxes and VAT delayed under a Government amnesty.
One of the key issues to be faced in this week’s experiments will be to close off the countryside – as was done in 2001 – or to launch advertising campaigns telling people that the countryside is still open for business.