Today marks a decade and a half since the discovery of infected pigs at an abattoir in Essex, a find which went on to provoke a major farming crisis. But the UK is now free of foot and mouth disease (FMD) and, according to York farmer Charles Mills, well placed to contain future outbreaks.
The 2001 FMD epidemic cost an estimated £8bn, led to the slaughter of 10m sheep, pigs and cattle, and prompted a far-reaching review of farming practices and attitudes which Mr Mills, the honorary show director of the Great Yorkshire Show, believes has been widely embraced.
“The 2001 foot and mouth outbreak was a nightmare for all farmers, and an experience none of us ever want to repeat,” he said.
“Since the outbreak time has moved on and so has the farming community. “It took a while, but I believe Yorkshire farmers have recovered from the outbreak and that the industry has learned a lot from what happened.
“Many of the security measures that are now in place may have added an administrative burden to us all but it’s a price worth paying.”
One of the biggest causes of the rapid spread of FMD in 2001 was the unrestricted movement of livestock, which allowed infected animals to come into contact with healthy herds, together with a delayed response by central Government to the escalating crisis.
“We now have tracked movement of cattle, passports for cattle and the traceability of livestock is far better than it has ever been,” said Mr Mills.
He remains a supporter of the six-day standstill rule which prevents the movement of cattle, sheep, goats or pigs from a farm within six days of them arriving, unless an exemption has been granted.
“The response to FMD was slow in 2001 but the six-day rule helps provide security, as do the other initiatives to restrict movement and the measures that allow livestock to be tracked.
“Simple things like disinfecting trailers and lorries at livestock markets are also helping: farming and farmers had a bad time of it in 2001 but we are in a much better place now.”
Mr Mills is currently busy planning for the Great Yorkshire Show which had to be cancelled in 2001 due to the FMD outbreak.
This year’s celebration of the region’s farming industry takes place at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate from Tuesday, July 12 to Thursday, July 14, and it will be its 158th incarnation.
Mr Mills said: “It’s a very special event and it’s going to be even more special this year.
“We’re all really looking forward to it massively, there are lots of new features and a great many interesting events and activities being planned.”
Advance tickets for the Great Yorkshire Show will go on sale on Tuesday March 1, priced £23 for adults and £10 for children.
See page 10 for a special anniversary report on how farming was changed by the outbreak of the disease in 2001.