Agriculture Minister Brid Rodgers’ officials were today accused of putting Northern Ireland’s entire farming industry at risk because of a lack of information about any contingency plans to deal with future outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.
Sinn Fein Agriculture spokesman Gerry McHugh expressed “serious concern” about a lack of awareness of plans from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for dealing with future animal epidemics.
In a hard hitting attack on the department, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA complained: “Given the impact and cost of foot-and-mouth disease, it is totally unacceptable that at council level and farm level, people have no knowledge of what measures would be put in place in the event of any future outbreak.
“If foot-and-mouth was to break out tomorrow, no-one working in the agriculture industry would have any idea of what contingency plans the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has – if they, indeed, have any.
“But any such contingency plans would need to incorporate the wider rural community including the farming community, tourist industry and community groups. Partnership in developing effective bio-security measures is important.”
Northern Ireland had four cases of foot-and-mouth disease last year with outbreaks in south Armagh, Ardboe in County Tyrone and Cushendall in the Glens of Antrim.
Mr McHugh said today in the wake of last year’s outbreaks bio-security contingency plans needed to be put in place immediately to deal with issues such as securing areas of infection, the disposal of carcasses, prevention of the disease, transport and the movement of foodstuff and livestock.
The Assembly Agriculture Committee member said it was also vital the public have confidence that Mrs Rodgers’ officials had learnt from the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
The Sinn Fein MLA alleged: “There has also been little in the way of follow-up support for or work with communities affected by the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.
“These are families, often already struggling to maintain the farming business, that need to deal with the changes that they are facing.
“If DARD has a plan, no-one knows about it.
“If DARD is developing a plan they need to work in partnership with the key stakeholders in the rural community.
“If they have not learnt the lessons from the foot-and-mouth outbreak, then they are exposing the entire agriculture industry to risk.”