BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Foot-and-mouth triggers crisis management PR

The first case of foot-and-mouth disease - the latest

agriculture-related crisis to raise food safety concerns - was detected

in Essex during the night of 20 February.

Such is its ferocity, that foot-and-mouth can spread in hours. Yet even

that is not as fast as its takes the national press to turn a farming

crisis into front-page news.

Media coverage has been relentless, with the countryside labelled a

no-go zone, with pictures of blazing pyres of carcasses on front pages -

shocking images with potentially shocking consequences in terms of


Yet the PR teams at the two most vocal bodies involved in the crisis -

the National Farmers Union and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries

and Food - are content with how the media has handled it.

MAFF spokesperson Eleanor Trehare-Jones claims this is because of good

relations with senior journalists: 'Because of this, we were confident

of getting our message across in a sensible manner. This is an animal

health crisis, not a public health crisis and there will be no shortage

of food. On the whole, the media has got that message across.'

A leader in The Sun this week suggests major media players are keen not

to be seen as scaremongers. The piece heaped praise on Agriculture

Minister Nick Brown for his calmness and attacked rival newspapers'

claims about food shortages.

The dozen members of the NFU PR team, based in London and eight regional

offices, have unsurprisingly been, 'inundated' by media attention,

according to head of public affairs Diane Lamb.

'We wanted to ensure our senior staff were available for as many

interviews as possible. We are involved in talks with MAFF and need to

get vital information out to farmers and the public,' she said.

These claims are backed up by journalists covering the scare. 'The NFU

is always very good at getting back and keeping us updated. One

difference we've found with MAFF is that the press office can be

difficult to get hold of on Sundays. That's changed - we've now got

mobile numbers coming at us left, right and centre,' said Barry

Rabbetts, news editor at news agency Kent News and Pictures.

For the time being, the NFU is concentrating on getting factual

information to the public, rather than recriminations and calls for

compensation. However, that time will come and foot-and-mouth is

unlikely to go away in a hurry.

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