The Ministry and the Malady

Paul Brassley puts MAFF's policy towards Foot and Mouth Disease into historical perspective.

Who was the last minister in the Cabinet? It is bound to be a quiz question sooner or later, and the answer will be Nick Brown. The explanation, of course, is that heads of government departments serving in the cabinet are usually secretaries of state, and only their juniors are called ministers. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), which disappeared after the election in June 2001, was in fact the only remaining department of state with a minister in charge, and its replacement, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (to be known for short as DEFRA), is headed by a Secretary of State like all the other departments. 

We shall presumably have to wait thirty years for the release of the necessary official papers before we really know whether Foot and Mouth Disease was as fatal to MAFF as it was to millions of animals. Food scares and attitudes to the environment have also been suggested as reasons for its demise. But if it was, there would be a certain neat circularity in the whole story, for animal disease was one of the reasons for the foundation of MAFF’s predecessor, and the ministry was closely connected with the emergence of a slaughter policy for Foot and Mouthand other animal diseases.

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