‘CARNAGE BY COMPUTER’: THE BLACKBOARD ECONOMICS OF THE 2001 FOOT AND MOUTH EPIDEMIC
DAVID CAMPBELL AND ROBERT LEE
Cardiff Law School and ESRC Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS), UK
The foot and mouth disease (FMD) epidemic in the UK in 2001 had devastating consequences, including the slaughter of millions of animals and huge losses to the rural economy. The regulatory policies devised to deal with FMD so gravely misconceived the magnitude of the risk that an outbreak was destined to become an epidemic. This article seeks to draw lessons for regulatory policy by examining the nature of the disaster and the chosen methods of control both before and during the epidemic. It rejects the analysis of the epidemic offered by the government agency responsible and argues that the policies adopted provide a classic example of Coase’s notion of ‘blackboard economics’. The public interventions, although appearing to work splendidly in the abstract, showed little sensitivity to the conditions actually prevailing in modern livestock rearing, and as a result their consequences were not merely imperfect but actually pernicious. We reach the sad conclusion that few lessons have been learned from the outbreak, as the very practices largely responsible for the epidemic are still prevalent, and as legislation and contingency planning show signs of a preparedness merely to repeat the same mistakes.
n a series of papers of which this was the ﬁrst drafted, we will draw conclusions for regulatory theory and policy from the epidemic of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in the UK in 2001. Our work makes repeated reference to the various local, national and EU ofﬁcial inquiries into the epidemic, including the three specially commissioned by the UK government: The Future of Farming and Food, chaired by Sir Don Curry (Curry, 2002);
SOCIAL & LEGAL STUDIES 0964 6639 (200312) 12:4 Copyright © 2003 SAGE...