Forget trying to keep track of DEFRA’s chopping and changing disease restriction zones. Stephen Carr explains what they are really about

You may have found the latest DEFRA announcements concerning changes to foot-and-mouth movement restrictions rather confusing. Always ready to assist my farming colleagues, I thought it might be helpful to explain the extent of the new zones and what they mean.

Q The F&M Restricted Compensation Zone

This replaces the old F&M Restricted Zone and is not limited to a small part of the south east of England, but extends across all of Great Britain. This zone has been set up by DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn, not to limit the spread of disease, but to prevent the possibility of any proper government compensation being paid to Britain’s devastated livestock farmers.

Mr Benn has already accepted that this summer’s F&M outbreak almost certainly originated through lapses in biosecurity at the government’s own Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright in Surrey. By setting up the F&M Restricted Compensation Zone Mr Benn hopes to ensure that there will be no cash leaks from the Treasury similar to the alleged Pirbright biosecurity leak.

The only farmers receiving any financial assistance within the F&M Restricted Compensation Zone will be some in Wales and Scotland. These will be paid a modest amount for a light lamb disposal scheme by regional assemblies more sympathetic to their plight than Westminster. A few upland English farmers will also have a small top-up of their hill payments.

Despite the industry’s attempts to get the F&M Restricted Compensation Zone lifted, it looks like this measure will remain in place indefinitely, whatever the eventual financial damage done to hard-pressed livestock farmers.

Q The Browntongue Patronised Zone

Covering the whole of the UK without exception, this zone was created immediately after Gordon Brown’s first speech to the Labour Party conference as Prime Minister last month. He praised the farming community for its stoicism in the face of the F&M crisis, without ever admitting his own government’s responsibility for the outbreak or liability for its financial consequences.

He went on to declare that the countryside provided “the oxygen of our cities”. Within a few weeks he was suffocating the rural community by restricting total government F&M compensation to English farmers to a paltry £12m, instead of the hundreds of millions that it owes. Farmers disgusted by this hypocritical approach can at least look forward to the Browntongue Zone being lifted at the next General Election, if recent polls are to be believed.

Q The F&M Past Caring Zone

Formerly known as the F&M Restricted Zone, the F&M Protection Zone, the F&M Surveillance Zone and the F&M Restricted Export Control Zone, this brand new area, the Past Caring Zone, has been declared across vast areas of the UK.

Many farmers in the Past Caring Zone have been receiving as little as 68p/kg for their prime lambs, and many breeding sheep have been rendered unsaleable. Some farmers within the zone report predatory pricing by abattoirs with net receipts of little more than £10 a head after “grid deductions”. And this, for consignments of prime fat lambs with no apparent drop in the price of lamb in the shops.

Local authority Animal Health personnel within the Past Caring Zone have been swamped by transport and movement restriction small print. With almost daily changes to the regulations, it has got to the point where even they don’t understand the detail, let alone the farmers they are trying to police. Both farmers and Animal Health personnel within this zone are now deemed to be officially “Passed Caring”.

I hope I have clarified the situation. Expect further changes tomorrow.