27 July 2001

Cleaning costs unsubstantiated by government

CIVIL servants have been unable to substantiate government claims that it costs more than £100,000 to clean up each farm hit by foot-and-mouth disease.

Tony Blair called a halt to secondary cleaning and disinfecting operations after a leaked government memo said the estimated average cost in England and Wales was £104,000 per farm. The Prime Minister ruled the figure "unacceptable" and the memo claimed that the final clean-up bill could reach £800 million.

But investigations by farmers weekly indicate that the true average could be nearer £30,000. A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs admitted that the figure in the memo may be incorrect.

Cleaning and disinfection has been completed only on about 1700 out of 8000 farms where livestock have been culled. A DEFRA statement said £75m had been paid out. But the spokeswoman was unable to say how many farms were covered by the £75m. She was also unable to provide a breakdown of costs.

Not an average

"£100,000 is not the average figure. It refers to the upper level of costs," the spokeswoman told farmers weekly. "The £75m is based on invoices but these are not linked to farms. They relate to things like hours worked and machinery used."

Farmers and contractors contacted by farmers weekly indicated that the cost of the clean-up is much lower than £104,000 for each farm. NFU livestock committee chairman Les Armstrong had two farms culled out in Cumbria. The cost of cleansing and disinfecting was "nowhere near" £100,000, he said.

Market Drayton-based firm Powa Pak Cleaning has cleaned and disinfected 68 premises in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire. It has helped disinfect a further 42. The company has submitted a bill of £2m to the government, indicating an average cost per farm of well under £30,000.

The £100,000 figure for England and Wales has been compared to an estimated average cost of £30,000 in Scotland. Despite the Prime Ministers intervention south of the border, the Scottish Executive insisted that the cleaning programme in Scotland would continue. &#42

Ministers in Edinburgh expect a total bill of about £15million for the full cleansing and disinfection of 565 farms in Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. An executive spokesman told farmers weekly that 322 of the farms had already been signed off as fully disinfected, with cleaning at the remaining units now underway.

"The average cost is £30,000 per contract," the spokesman said. A combination of private contractors, regional council staff and farmers themselves have been involved in the process, he added.

Meanwhile, blood tests on sheep within 10km of infected premises in Dumfries and Galloway should be completed by early next week. A total of 130 farms were selected, and about 100 have already been tested. "The results are ongoing, but so far there has been no sign at all of any foot-and-mouth infection," said the spokesman.