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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Legal focus for farm disease crisis
Farmer Bobby Waugh
Waugh denies causing suffering to his animals

Bobby Waugh's piggery close to Hadrian's Wall was riddled with foot-and-mouth disease at the very start of what was to become a national crisis.

He lived in Sunderland but kept his pigs at Burnside Farm in the village of Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland.

Waugh, 56, and his brother Ronald - who was not prosecuted because of his own ill health - were tenant farmers.

Burnside Farm
Foot-and-mouth disease struck pigs at Burnside Farm

The prosecution did not claim Waugh's husbandry - or lack of it - at Burnside Farm was the cause of the national outbreak.

But he was prosecuted on the basis that he had failed to report the disease to the authorities when it broke out on his farm.

He also faced a charge of failing to record the movement of pigs.

Waugh will face another six charges before another court in July, this time relating to alleged breaches of trades description and animal health and protection legislation.

The presence of foot-and-mouth among Mr Waugh's pigs was confirmed on 23 February 2001 - four days after the disease had been discovered at a meat-processing factory in Essex.

Crisis begins

A five-mile exclusion zone was drawn around the dilapidated farm buildings on a hill across the A69 from the village of Heddon, and the crisis that was to decimate the fortunes of the agriculture and tourism industry was up and running out of control.

It had been over 30 years since the last devastating foot-and-mouth outbreak in 1967.

But if the farming industry believed contingency planning would mean the crisis could be handled, they and the rest of the rural economy were to be bitterly disappointed.

The cry became "too little too late" as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) tried to fight the spread of the virus first with livestock movement suspensions, then the mass culling of healthy animals as well as the destruction of the stricken cattle, sheep and pigs.
Dead sheep
Nearly four million animals were destroyed

The situation became explosive, spreading from the North East to Cumbria, Yorkshire and the South West.

Farmers were convinced the foot-and-mouth virus was always one step ahead of anything and everything Maff attempted through its slow, civil service tradition.

The statistics of the 2001 outbreak starkly illustrate the horror of the disaster.

Nearly four million animals across the United Kingdom were destroyed, many in ugly foul-smelling, smoky pyres.

Some pyres were built on the affected farms while others were huge commercial operations for whole regions built on disused wartime airfields or abandoned mining sites.

Farmers ruined

Thousands of farmers lost their livelihoods, never to be able to face the battle of re-stocking their fields and re-starting their jobs from scratch.

That was why Waugh's trial was so significant.

The farming world believes the government made mistake after mistake in its fight against the outbreak.

But foot-and-mouth revealed a picture of the animal industry across the country that few had properly comprehended - like the huge volume of animal traffic around the country to markets or half-way farms and then processors, a fast-moving shuttle of sheep in particular that whipped the virus nationwide.

Several different governmental and regional inquiries are now investigating the sorry saga and trying to plot future strategies for recovery and regeneration.

The prosecution of Waugh offers a legal focus on what might have been some of the practical farming errors and omissions that were eventually to cost UK farmers around 1.2bn and British tourism between 2bn and 3bn.

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08 Oct 01 | England
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