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.