27 November 2001
Beet farmers face border controls

By David Green

SUGAR beet farmers in Norfolk and Suffolk could be subjected to border controls in a bid to stop the spread of rhizomania.

Transport of sugar beet and field vegetables from the counties may be regulated in a review of the UKs rhizomania-free status next year.

Disease-free status currently lets the UK ban imports of potatoes, nursery stock and other soil-bearing material from infected countries.

But rhizomania has spread so much in recent years that government officials now believe maintaining the protected zone is unfeasible.

The disease has been found on more than 200 farms in Norfolk and Suffolk during the past 14 years. New cases this year almost doubled.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs believes that protected status will have to be removed from the UK.

But farmers want protected-zone status extended for at least two years so trials of rhizomania-resistant beet varieties can be completed.

Sandra Nichols, the National Farmers Unions policy adviser in East Anglia, said she was “astonished” by the Defra stance.

“It would be unworkable in terms of loads crossing county borders, and it could affect field vegetables as well as sugar beet,” she said.

Haulier Robin Gowler said the withdrawal of protected zone status for just Norfolk and Suffolk would be “crazy”.