ONE of Cumbria’s senior politicians says the county is not prepared should another devastating foot-and-mouth crisis strike.

Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young spoke of his concerns, 20 years to the day since the start of the crisis that brought the county’s farming community to its knees.

In 2001, it ravaged the Cumbrian countryside for seven long months, and cost the county an estimated £230m – one third of the money garnered annually from tourism – as well as the loss of 7,000 of the 47,000 jobs in the tourism sector.

More than 1.3m animals were destroyed in the county alone, with the Army called in to help. By the end of the outbreak, a total of 893 county premises were infected and 3,500 farms lost all or some of their stock.

In the county, 1.1m sheep, 215,000 cattle, 45,000 pigs, and 1,500 other animals were killed. The period was one of financial worry and emotional stress, with beloved flocks and herds slaughtered, and cash flows disrupted.

That crisis sparked a radical reform of how agriculture works across the country, with restrictions on livestock movement and how animals are recorded.

Now two decades on, the question on people’s minds is “could it happen again?”. Mr Young feels that if there is another FMD outbreak, another nightmare scenario could unfold.

“An emergency plan to deal with, god forbid, another outbreak of FMD? There is probably not one,” he claimed. “Like Covid, there will be no plan to deal with it. I have often raised that question.

“There should be a discussion on emergency plans for such an outbreak and whether vaccination should be brought in as an alternate policy. Everything is made up as you go along with Covid, just as it was for FMD.

“Surely Government must have had some idea. But it feels like there is no proper plan.”

David Black, managing director at Paragon Veterinary Group in Dalston, said: “It is difficult to say too much about FMD 20 years on, but I am not sure the Government’s knee-jerk handling of Covid is any different, any more inspiring or any more likely to give us confidence than what we saw in FMD.”

He added: “I thought FMD was going to be the career-defining disease epidemic that I was likely to see, but here we have another. I think the lessons we learnt as a business during FMD have stood us in good stead for Covid-19. But this will be a defining period of time for all of us and vets are no different.”

National Farmers Union north west regional director David Hall said: “God forbid if FMD ever returned to Cumbria, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the industry response would be quick, efficient and robust enough to stamp it out because of the lessons learned.”

Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and the Border said: “We have learned some lessons from FMD in 2001 – from strict movement restrictions, animal identification and calling in the Army early.

“But now, technology has moved on. If heaven forbid we face another FMD outbreak then vaccination would likely be part of the Government’s armament.”