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The UK Foot and Mouth Epidemic of 2001: A Research Resource
(Professor David Campbell, Professor Robert Lee, Tamara Egede)

An online research resource

The UK Policy of Stamping Out

Links to the BRASS Centre Website
Disease control Legitimising the cull - the Animal Health Act of 2002

The UK Government adopted stamping out measures to deal with the 2001 FMD outbreak. Campbell and Lee point out that if the policy of control by stamping out is to be effective, it is absolutely crucial that such an outbreak is immediately identified. This is to ensure that animal movements can be controlled, the source of disease isolated, and infected and at-risk animals disposed of “immediately.”

Link to Carnage by Computer: The Blackboard Economics of the 2001 Foot and Mouth Epidemic

funeral pyre (c) FreeFoto.com

The UK stamping out policy entailed the execution of several severe measures, including restrictions in movement, partial denial of access to the countryside and closure of footpaths, which had some negative impact on the tourism sector. Perhaps the most unpopular way in which the Government sought to stamp out the disease during its peak was through the contiguous culling process, which resulted in the catastrophic loss of animals and unsavoury environmental consequences.Concerns remain over environmental implications of foot and mouth animals' disposal. Edie weekly summaries. (April 20, 2001).

The contiguous culling process arose alongside the introduction of the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR). Campbell and Lee in Carnage by Computer: The Blackboard Economics of the 2001 Foot and Mouth Epidemic remark that “COBR’s cross departmental powers allowed it to organise a cull on such a gigantic scale.”

This controversial policy involved killing all animals on infected farms within 24 hours, and those on adjacent farms within 48 hours - in other words, a precautionary basis of killing animals within 3km zones established around farms presumed to be infected. This led to the slaughter of 4,078,000 animals. See Foot and Mouth 2001: The Politics of Crisis Management by McConnell & Stark. Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government 2002 Parliamentary Affairs (2002),55,664-681.

Legality of the contiguous cull

The Government stated that the legal basis for its contiguous culling policy was the Animal Health Act of 1981.

"The Animal Health Act 1981 provides for the slaughter of animals which are infected with foot and mouth disease (FMD) or suspected of being so infected and of animals which have been in contact with affected animals or which appear to the Minister to have been in any way exposed to the infection of foot and mouth disease. This is the legal basis of the contiguous cull". Official Report, 20/5/02; col. WA80. United Kingdom Parliament.

Two cases have also been heavily relied upon by the Government to justify the policy. They are MAFF v. Winsdale, and Westerhall Farms v. Scottish Ministers. The Agriculture Minister is quoted to have said that from the decisions of these cases “…. the legality of the cull is not in doubt.” Official Report, 17/4/02; col. 983.

However the jury is out as to whether, at the time of the outbreak, the Government had the powers to carry out the contiguous culling. For instance, Lord Willoughby de Broke of the House of Lords stated that the contiguous culling was “…not sanctioned by law and that the legal basis which the Minister cites as justifying the contiguous cull does nothing of the kind.” 25 Jun 2002: Col. 1275.

Dr Alex Donaldson, head of the Pirbright Laboratory at the Institute for Animal Health, is also reported to have critically questioned the basis for the huge slaughter programme to tackle the crisis in the UK.

Doubts raised over slaughter policy

As the Government embarked on the contiguous culling process, the Green Party issued a press release stating that "There is no legal basis for enforcing a contiguous cull against the wishes of the farmer concerned ". Foot and mouth disease culling is illegal says barrister – Green Party News

It was also reported in the Daily Telegraph that, in response to Labour MEPs' attempts at the European Parliament’s committee on FMD to push support for the contiguous culling policy, Robert Sturdy, a Tory MEP and farmer, is quoted to have said “We will oppose any amendment to support contiguous culling, not least because it was illegal under British law."
Labour MEPs accused over foot and mouth - study by Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent (Filed: 18/11/2002)

Despite wide-scale criticism of the contiguous culling, many (including Prof. Anderson’s Lessons Learned inquiry) claimed that this culling method actually saved animal lives in the long run. The Chief Scientific Officer also informed the Select Committee of the House of Commons that it was the application of the policy that brought the situation under control. The Select Committee, after hearing of evidence on the policy, went on to state that “The contiguous cull was a response to a desperate situation, not a pre-meditated response to a known, assessed risk.” See: Key issues raised by our evidence in Impact of foot and mouth disease. (House of Commons papers. Session 2001/02; HC 323)

The contiguous cull may well have saved lives, as argued by Anderson, but it will continue to remain an emotive issue to those who have to live with the indelible memory of the social, economic and environmental consequences that ensued through the mass slaughter of animals.

For more reports on the merits and demerits of the contiguous culling, click on:

Transmission, intensity and impact of control policies on the foot and mouth epidemic in Great Britain by
Neil M. Ferguson, Christi A. Donelly and Roy M. Anderson, published in the scientific journal Nature, October 2001.

Epidemiology of FMD epidemics: past works & future priorities by Ferguson, Donelly and Anderson

Relative risks of the uncontrollable (airborne) spread of FMD by different species
by A.I. Donaldson, S. Alexandersen, J.H. Sorenson and T. Mikkelsen.

The slaughter extends to the Brecon Beacons

Wales also had its fair share of FMD cases during the 2001 epidemic. The total confirmed number of FMD cases was 118. As of 17th December 2001, the total number of animals slaughtered, including contiguous premises and dangerous contacts, was:

Cattle – 35,184
Sheep – 304,847
Pigs – 5941
Goats – 121.

Even the animals of the Brecon Beacons were killed in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading across the National Park. In July 2001, 4,000 sheep on the Beacons were killed. As the Times commented, FMD gave the British landscape a new look. In a poignant statement, the newspaper stated “The foot and mouth disease slaughter has cleared cattle and sheep from vast areas of farmland but it has been 'boom time' for wild flowers, grass and ground nesting birds. The new landscape is beginning to resemble the flower clad fields of Victorian England...” By the end of the joint exercise by DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly, approximately 20,000 Beacon sheep had been culled. Hefted sheep, valued highly by farmers as they do not wander away from their established territories on open hillsides, were among the Beacon sheep destroyed. The National Farmers' Union in Wales, however, frowned on the number of sheep that were killed. It advocated that healthy animals be put into quarantine and later used to restock the hills.

Third Beacons Sheep Cull Completed, Saturday 4th August 2001, BBC News Wales
Beacons’ Cull Could Wipe Out Entire Flock by David Brown 27th July 2001

More information about the FMD outbreak in Wales can be found in:
Farmers Union In Wales
The National Assembly for Wales
Powys County Council

Web site created and maintained by Heledd Jenkins
Last updated 26.02.04