EDITORIAL: A foreign crisis is real food danger

The confidence with which the National Farmers Union and Ministry

of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food apparently views its crisis

management handling of the current foot-and-mouth outbreak is frankly

rather unnerving.

Given MAFF's record, in particular, of managing food safety crises, the

ministry's claim that it is getting its message across in a sensible

manner should come with a health warning. Last weekend, for example,

despite the attempts by MAFF to prevent widespread movement in the

countryside, a considerable number of farmers reported normal if not

higher levels of ramblers about.

Both MAFF and the NFU talk in glowing terms about the UK media's

response, but the real communications problem may lie on foreign shores,

carried there - along with the virus - by an ill wind. Britain's already

battered reputation for food safety may be beyond recovery, if MAFF and

Number 10 do not also attempt to foster similarly productive

relationships with European media commentators.

But with William Hague already attempting to turn the crisis into an

electioneering tool by calling for a debate in the House, there is a

real danger that the domestic political agenda will divert attention

away from the UK's broader reputation management crisis beckoning from

the continent.

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