16 March 2001
Brown promises disease crisis cash

By Alistair Driver

AGRICULTURE Minister Nick Brown has promised a significant financial package to help farmers recover from the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The minister has also apologised to farmers in Scotland and northern England for saying that cattle would be included in an emergency cull.

“I want to say loud and clear to farmers – particularly those in the most infected areas – that we will not abandon them,” he said on Friday (16 March).

“We intend to help those farmers and that means financial assistance.”

At a press briefing in London, Mr Brown pledged that the aid package would be substantial, although he was able to say how much it would amount to.

The minister said he would discuss the detail with farmers leaders over the weekend and talk to European Union farm commissioner on Monday (19 March).

The package will be put together with Chris Smith and Michael Meacher.

“It is clear that we are looking at measures which will require substantial public expenditure,” Mr Brown told journalists.

The minister also said he was sorry for giving the impression that cattle in Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway would be culled to control the disease.

Mr Brown said: “I want to apologise myself and on behalf of MAFF for the distress that we have caused to farmers. My statement was true, but ambiguous.”

Chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore said he believed 300,000 sheep and pigs will be culled in 3km zones around infected farms.

But the National Farmers Union believes that the final death toll will be much higher, possibly amounting to one million animals.

As the mass cull began, NFU president Ben Gill said the governments recovery package would have to amount to hundreds of millions of pounds.

In an emotional statement, Mr Gill told journalists that the number of outbreaks – which is approaching 300 – was driving farmers in some areas to the brink of suicide.

Referring to the governments pre-emptive cull, Mr Gill said: “We will see whole areas of the countryside lying idle for six months; nobody knows what will happen.”

It remained to be seen how farmers would restock and recover their markets.

The situation is especially dire for the Farmers First company, which has exported 2.5m live sheep worth 75m to producers since it was founded in 1998.

As carcasses continue to pile up on farms, Mr Gill said the levels of stress in certain parts of the countryside had reached new depths.

Mr Browns mistaken announcement that cattle would be included in the 3km cull zone had caused a huge amount of distress and confusion among livestock producers.

Research has shown that 80% of dairy farmers know the names of all their cows.

However, Mr Gill maintained that the cull of sheep and pigs was vital if foot-and-mouth is to be controlled, and insisted that most farmers agreed it was necessary.

The ministry should explain in full detail what is going to happen in infected areas. Some farmers are uncertain as to whether they will be included in the cull.

Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage