27 April 2001
Brown: disease ‘last straw’ for many

By FWi staff

AGRICULTURE minister Nick Brown has admitted that the foot-and-mouth crisis has been “the last straw” for some beleaguered farmers.

The minister was responding to a FARMERS WEEKLY survey which revealed that almost half the farmers hit by the disease plan to quit or scale down businesses.

Some 6% of farmers with a case of foot-and-mouth expect to give up farming altogether – three times the percentage which leave the industry in a normal year.

More than one-third of those questioned will only partially restock their farms. Fewer than half expect their businesses to recover in the near future.

The minister told the flagship BBC Radio 4 Today programme, which made the FARMERS WEEKLY poll its lead story, that he was unsurprised.

“I certainly think the foot-and-mouth outbreak has been the last straw for some farmers,” said Mr Brown.

He said farmers had endured four years of depressed incomes due to the fallout from BSE, low commodity prices and now foot-and-mouth.

Mr Brown conceded that farmers who “go through the heart-breaking process of seeing their stock slaughtered out” may decide against restocking.

“Theyre bound to think, particularly if theyre in their late fifties, whether they should go through the business of restocking and starting again or consider retiring.

“Frankly I dont blame them for thinking about that,” admitted the minister.

Mr Brown pledged that the Government would stand by the farming community to make sure to help with the recovery programme for the industry.

Efforts would be made to move away from this over-reliance on Common Agricultural Policy production subsidies towards a more rational support system.

Although 79% of the 128 farmers questioned in the survey said the Ministry of Agriculture had let them down, Mr Brown defended his record.

Many producers said that MAFF failed to keep up with events and with-held information. There have also been complaints that the cull was over-zealous.

But the minister said he had stuck very carefully to the scientific and veterinary advice and knew of no other intervention to eradicate the disease.

“We have to cull the disease out and I know it is hard but it is necessary,” he said.

Mr Brown said he had decided against vaccination, which 64% of those surveyed opposed, because consumers indicated that they were unhappy with it.

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