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A farmer's perspective

MagazineMay 2001 (Vol. 12 Issue 2)A farmer's perspective

Until last Monday, 12 March, Wynn Gittens was a hardworking dairy herd farmer, farming 200 cattle and 1350 sheep at Ucheldre Farm, Brooks, near Welsh pool, Wales

Until last Monday, 12 March, Wynn Gittens was a hardworking dairy herd farmer, farming 200 cattle and 1350 sheep at Ucheldre Farm, Brooks, near Welsh pool, Wales. But in the space of a single day, his whole life was turned upside down.

That morning, Wynn noticed that a couple of his cows were drooling at the mouth, and that another was limping slightly. Abiding by the statutory legislation instructing farmers to immediately report any suspected symptoms indicating foot and mouth disease (FMD), Wynn called his local vet. He was told that the vet could not come out because, if the cows in question had FMD, then the current quarantine laws would mean that the vet could not visit another farm for a minimum of the next three days. This would leave the practice short staffed. Wynn was told that a MAFF official would need to visit.The MAFF representative arrived shortly thereafter. Wynn took him to the cow shed. The official took one look at one of the suspected cows and said, "I don't need to see any more. This cow has got foot and mouth. I need to use your telephone."

A rapid series of calls was then made, through which the official informed his superiors and various other officials that an immediate slaughter of Wynn Gittens' animals needed to be carried out. Some paperwork was filled in, and another telephone call was made to request the attendance of a livestock evaluation officer.

With the paperwork completed and the death sentence process formally initiated, only then did the MAFF representative take a saliva sample from the only cow he had previously inspected. Within half an hour of the MAFF official leaving, the livestock evaluation officer arrived. The evaluation was carried out, and approximately one hour later, the slaughter began.

One brief visit by a ministry official, one unconfirmed visual diagnosis, some paperwork and, by early the next morning, 200 head of Belgian Blue Cross cattle and 1350 Beulah speckled sheep were dead.

No one has got back to Wynn with the results of the saliva sample taken by the official as he left the site. At no point in the visit to Mr Gittens' farm was any blood taken to confirm the presence of FMD. Not one single test was carried out to independently confirm the official's initial diagnosis.

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