Foot and mouth disease

Last Saturday I met with West Sussex farmers to discuss the continuing fallout from the Foot and Mouth and Bluetongue disease crises.  They've been hit hard by restrictions on the movement and export of livestock, and the value of their livestock has dropped by about a third.

Foot and Mouth broke out three months ago from the Government's own laboratory in Surrey.  The Government gave the all-clear prematurely, and just a few days later there was a further outbreak.  As I write, there are reports of a new leak from a lab adjacent to the Government's.

It might have appeared to be better news for farmers earlier this week when a new EU Commission ruling came into force, allowing farmers in much of the country to export their produce.  But West Sussex remains in a "No Export" area, which means that farmers remain unable to sell their produce to the rest of the EU, and the movement of animals is still restricted.

In fact, local farmers feel they are worse off now than they were before.  On top of this, the outbreak of Bluetongue disease has meant further controls on every farmer in the county, with even tougher restrictions in Mid-Sussex district and East Sussex.

I've taken up these issues with the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn.  Farmers understand better than anyone else the need to protect their industry.  But they want to know the basis of the restrictions and whether the Government has a clear plan for the organised lifting of them.

No-one can be blamed for the outbreak of Bluetongue disease, but the Government should be held to account for the leak of Foot and Mouth from their own laboratory.

So far, of course, no-one has resigned.  But then, the personal records of 25 million people can be lost and Ministers won't accept responsibility.  They are in charge, but the mistakes are never theirs.

Michelle Taylor