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doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9299.2010.01831.x





For the past decade, the policy community/issue network typology of pressure group interaction

has been used to explain policy outcomes and the policy-making process. To re-examine the validity of this typology, the paper focuses on the UK government’s response to the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) crisis, and in particular the decision to pursue contiguous culling rather than vaccination to overcome the epidemic. Rather than illustrating the emergence of an issue network in agricultural policy, the decision-making process of the FMD outbreak demonstrates continuity with prior crises. In addition, the politicization of scientific expertise is identified as an emerging trend in crisis management. Policy framing is used to explain the impetus behind the contiguous cull decision, concluding that the legacy of previous policy choices conditioned the crisis response to a far greater degree than contemporaneous pressure group action.

Policy network analysis and the contrasting models of policy communities and issue networks, as put forward by Marsh and Rhodes (1992, p. 251), continue to dominate the literature on the relationship between organized interests and the policy process.

The distinction runs as follows. A policy community has a limited number of members, and consciously excludes others. Economic and professional interests dominate, and as a result, values and outcomes persist over time. As the relatively few participants all have salient resources, there is a balance of power among them and they enter into exchange relationships, enjoying frequent, high quality interaction on all relevant matters.

An issue network, in contrast, encompasses a large range of affected interests, and thus conflict is ever present between members. As some lack resources, their relationships are consultative and unequal, and access to policy making fluctuates significantly. Given these fundamental characteristics, we might expect that a shift from one arrangement of groups to the other would both be unusual and indicate a momentous change in the workings of the policy process. The implications for policy choices would be great, as all case studies suggest that networks affect policy outcomes. The existence of a policy network, or more particularly a policy community, constrains the political agenda and shapes the policy outcomes. Policy communities, in particular, are associated with policy continuity. (Rhodes and Marsh 1992, p. 197) The consequence of a shift to an issue network would be expected to be discontinuity and increasing inter-organizational conflict, accompanied by a broadening of the policy agenda. The resulting policy-making process, as groups compete for influence, would likely be erratic and highly unstable.

Various analysts have diagnosed just such a transition in recent years in agricultural policy-making (see, for example, Smith 1991; Jordan et al. 1994; Grant 2004; Woods 2005). Once deemed ‘the paradigm case of a closed policy community’ (Smith 1993, p. 101), it is seen that a succession of high profile policy disasters – most notably food Katy Wilkinson and Philip Lowe are in the Centre for Rural Economy, University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Andrew Donaldson is in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Public Administration Vol. 88, No. 2, 2010 (331–345) © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.


scares – served to repoliticize agricultural policy, leading to the confident expectation that the policy community had been decisively prised open (Smith 1991).

In the 1980s, a series of food and health issues attracted public attention, from Chernobyl, Listeria and beef hormone implants to pesticides and nitrates in water. Anxieties over food and farming practices had been aroused by the growing number of cases of food poisoning – up from around 5,000 in 1972 to over 11,000 in 1979 – mainly due to endemic Salmonella in the UK chicken population (Grose 1983). Against this background, the media furore in 1988 surrounding the statement, and subsequent resignation, of Junior Minister Edwina Currie regarding the widespread presence of Salmonella in British eggs, placed food safety firmly on the agenda and initiated scrutiny on an unprecedented scale. The discovery of BSE in British cattle and the subsequent linking to a new variant of Creutzfeld–Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans brought public mistrust of government on these matters to crisis point; in 1996, 21 per cent of the population named BSE as the most urgent problem facing the country, placing the issue second only to unemployment in public concern (Gallup poll, King and Wybrow 2001, p. 272).

The Salmonella and BSE crises were seen as an indictment of the policy community and the close relationship between producer groups, particularly the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF). Policy was oriented towards the productivity and profitability of farmers, and this had been achieved through low levels of regulation. Indeed, producers had been granted the privilege of self-regulation but had failed to fulfil their obligations. When regulation failed, MAFF was willing to side with producer groups rather than fulfill its obligation to protect the public interest. Ultimately, as the official inquiry into BSE concluded, the disease ‘developed into an epidemic as a consequence of an intensive farming practice [which], unchallenged over decades, proved a recipe for disaster’ (BSE Inquiry 2000, p. xvii). It seemed inevitable that the policy community would be opened up as consumers gained a significant voice through the creation of a separate statutory Food Standards Agency and as the professionalization of conservation and environmental groups afforded them greater access to policy makers (Lowe et al. 2001a, p. 93). Some commentators now take for granted ‘the collapse’ of the agricultural policy community and speak of ‘the incoherence of the contemporary agricultural policy network in Britain’ (Woods 2005, pp. 21, 159).

The conduct of the most recent farming crisis in the UK, the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) epidemic, provides the opportunity to test these assumptions and to assess the validity of the underlying categorization of policy networks. The outbreak, being of relatively short duration and attracting relentless public scrutiny, allows us to chart policy change. Although the policy-making process at a time of crisis may be truncated, the decisions taken nevertheless reflect prevailing priorities. Our aim is not to scrutinize the effect of crisis conditions on policy-making, but to use the FMD outbreak as a means of re-evaluating claims made about the agriculture policy network. Analysts have claimed that the affair was characterized by ‘reactive policy’ (Taylor 2003) and ‘snap policy judgements’ (McConnell and Stark 2002), largely as a consequence of interference from a disparate range of interest groups. This paper argues that while some decisions at the height of the crisis may have given the impression of government vacillation, it was the dogged pursuit of an animal cull (including non-action over the alternative possibility of vaccination) that set and maintained the overall direction of the management of the crisis. This led, in turn, to the slaughter of the largest number of domestic animals in any disease outbreak ever. More significant in the future development – at least of disease control policy – than the range of interest groups involved, is the co-option of new forms

–  –  –

of expertise to both inform and legitimate the policy trajectory of stamping out (that is, culling animals to halt the spread of disease).


On 19 February 2001, a Veterinary Inspector with the Meat Hygiene Service spotted symptoms of FMD in pigs at an abattoir in Essex in South East England. He reported his observations to MAFF and halted all operations at the abattoir. MAFF immediately began tracing the farms from where the pigs had come and placed movement restrictions within a 5-mile radius of each property.

Subsequent analysis has shown that by the time symptoms were first spotted in Essex, 57 farms had already been ‘seeded’ with the infection (Defra 2002a), as far afield as the North East and South West of England. A pig unit in Northumberland in North East England was judged to have been the initial source of the infection. As well as having sent animals to the abattoir in Essex, it had also infected nearby farms by airborne viral plumes. Some 10 days before the outbreak had been detected, infected sheep had been transferred from one of these farms to a local market where they had come into contact with other livestock. These livestock had been transported on to Longtown Market in Cumbria in the North West of England and then widely dispersed across the UK. By the time the outbreak was first detected, the disease was already widespread across the country, although it would take a few more days for that fact to become apparent.

The following day, 20 February, laboratory testing of samples from the Essex abattoir confirmed diagnosis, and the European Commission was informed. Provisions for the control of FMD in the UK are subject to EU regulation. A number of directives (designed with the international trade regimes in mind) define the actions to be taken in the event of an FMD outbreak. Directive 64/432/EEC (as amended by 89/662/EEC) deals with the imposition of movement restrictions between member states for animal disease control.

Specific European measures to control FMD were introduced with Directive 85/511/EEC, subsequently amended by Directive 90/423/EEC, to take into account the EU-wide cessation of prophylactic vaccination (AVIS n.d.). On the day following their notification of the FMD outbreak, 21 February, in accordance with EU control legislation, the European Commission banned all meat and live animal exports from the UK. This decision was immediately viewed as another blow to an already beleaguered farming industry in the UK, even before the full extent of the epidemic was known. There was seen to be an urgent need to stamp out FMD and give farmers back their ability to export.

Article 5 of Directive 90/423 laid down the requirement for all member states to have an FMD contingency plan. The UK’s contingency plan had been submitted to – and endorsed by – the Commission in 1992. The plan was ‘largely internal’ to MAFF and intended ‘essentially for officials and vets’ (Defra 2002b). It was subject to regular updates and based largely on the findings and conclusions of the Northumberland Inquiry, held after the previous serious outbreak of FMD in the UK in 1967/8. The main means it specified for disease control was the culling of all livestock on infected premises and movement restrictions on the surrounding area. The contingency planning had been based on a worst case scenario of having to deal with ten infected premises at any one time. However, at the height of the 2001 epidemic – in mid March – up to 50 new cases were being declared in the course of a single day.

As the scale of the outbreak became apparent, the UK government took more drastic action. On 22 February, the public were urged to postpone unnecessary visits which Public Administration Vol. 88, No. 2, 2010 (331–345) © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


might bring them into contact with ‘livestock farms’ (MAFF 22/02/01 News Release).

The following day a ban was imposed on the movement of all livestock in Great Britain.

As a total ban, it was in place for ten days. Then, from early March, the transport of some animals to slaughter was permitted, but only under licence.

The NFU also called for public access to the countryside to be curtailed. It pressed the government to impose mandatory footpath closures onto local authorities, and contacted these authorities directly, urging them to act. One week into the crisis, on 27 February, local authorities were given additional powers to close public footpaths. In a public statement on the same day, NFU president Ben Gill argued that members of the public could be unwittingly spreading the disease, and implored them to ‘please, please stay away from the countryside’ (Rural Task Force 2001, p. 25). County Councils immediately closed rights of way and issued ‘path closed’ notices to livestock farmers. Access to the countryside was effectively terminated. There was, however, no evidence to suggest that members of the public walking in the countryside played a part in the spread of the disease, and subsequently, the ‘closure of the countryside’ was admitted to have been an ultra-precautionary step that could not be justified as a practical preventative measure (Defra 2001, p. 24). In contrast, the movement of animals was known to be a major cause of disease spread and, apart from earlier detection and confirmation of disease cases, a more prompt ban on livestock movements is the one action that could have materially reduced the eventual scale of the outbreak. Soon there were reports of the impact of the closure of the countryside on rural tourism and other businesses. This led to criticism of the government for its apparently cavalier disregard of the wider rural economy and to appeals to moderate the blanket ban on countryside access.

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