By Debbie James

It is now 20 years since foot and mouth disease brought the farming industry to its knees but for me and many others, the memory of that awful year still lingers.

I remember the underlying fear that disease would infect our dairy herd.

I recently unearthed my diary from that year and apart from the worry of the disease itself there were entries about the logistical difficulties of cattle on off-lying land since livestock movements were banned.

The herd was on the point of calving as sickening images of pyres of burning livestock became a daily feature of television news reports.

Rarely did a day pass that year, when almost 6.5m cattle, sheep and pigs were slaughtered, without feeling the dread that the disease would emerge in Pembrokeshire.

Biosecurity was a big issue – like all farmers we developed a fortress mentality and used disinfectants like never before.

Mercifully we were spared infection but movement restrictions were a big headache.

In Wales the disease surfaced in a sheep at an abattoir on Anglesey at the end of February. Over the next six months 118 cases were confirmed in Wales.

In retrospect, the Government’s initial response was inadequate and lacked urgency, and without doubt hastened the spread of the disease across the UK.

To halt the disease spread effectively required speed of detection and response but the UK had a poor surveillance system.

The outbreak left a lasting legacy in the techniques and protocols we now have in place and in farmers’ attitudes to biosecurity.

It changed the way we farmed 20 years ago.

While the disease has been eradicated in this country we now have identification and tracing systems, rehearsed contingency plans and technological advances in disease control.

However, the threat of exotic disease is ever present as we have seen in recent months with avian influenza.

The world is an increasingly smaller place and movements of animals, people and food make us all vulnerable to the introduction of diseases like foot and mouth.

It is important that we never forget the devastation of that time and always make sure our actions don’t cause history to repeat itself.