Rural Payments Agency inspectors are continuing to visit farms across the country to check up on cross compliance, despite the industry being in a state of high alert following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

An RPA inspector, who asked to remain nameless, phoned Farmers Weekly on Monday morning to say he had just been told it was “business as usual”, except in the 3km protection zone and 10km surveillance zones.

“Staff on the ground are amazed, given that fresh cases of foot and mouth could arise at any time,” he said. “When the rest of the industry is taking extra precautions, the RPA is carrying on regardless.”

The inspector said he had received an e-mail from his regional manager on Monday morning (6 Aug).

“I’m advised that we should proceed with inspections as normal,” it said. “Ensure that all biosecurity directions are followed and that stocks of disinfectant are up to date. If you encounter any resistance from farmers, please report this immediately to management.”

The RPA instruction flies in the face of information put out by DEFRA, aimed at minimising the possibility of foot-and-mouth spreading.

DEFRA’s advice is that farmers should avoid visiting other farms “unless absolutely necessary” and, wherever possible, not allow vehicles onto the premises. “Vehicles can carry the virus more quickly and further than anything else,” says a DEFRA fact sheet.

NFU vice-president Paul Temple said the RPA should hold back from its inspection work until it was certain the foot and mouth outbreak had been contained.

“At a time when farmers are not even allowed to take their cattle direct to an abattoir, the least the RPA can do is follow suit. We all need to send out the right messages.”

But an RPA spokesman defended its position. “The countryside is open and RPA inspections are continuing outside the current Protection and Surveillance zones.

“RPA inspectors undertake rigorous biosecurity procedures on all visits, preparing fresh solutions and fully disinfecting when they enter and leave from premises.”

* Farmers Weekly and FWi has introduced a voluntary ban on all its journalists and photographers from visiting farms until it is clear the disease risk is over.

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For more see the FWi foot and mouth special report