7 March 1997

Counselling and support for farmers in despair is needed

GOVERNMENT should be seeking the advice of organisations like the Samaritans to help ensure emotional support is available to farmers whose herds are involved in the selective cull.

Chris Turney, a partner in Gloucester-based chartered surveyor firm Hamiltons, believes government has not appreciated the human misery and despair that the cull is going to cause some farmers.

And he says that the mass slaughter of 100,000 dairy cows could trigger suicidal feelings in some owners, especially those with pedigree herds.

"The ministry should be seeking the advice of organisations such as the Samaritans as a matter of great urgency in the hope of putting an emotional safety net in place for those farmers who could be psychologically destroyed by their cow losses," Mr Turney says.

Most of the cows earmarked as cohorts be at the peak of their milk production, and many are genetically superior.

"It has taken years of painstaking breeding to get them on the ground. In some cases it might have taken a lifetime to get them to their current state."

While he believes "pragmatic, hard-nosed big businessmen" who lose cows will use the setback as a commercial opportunity to restructure their farming businesses, the loss of cows will be hard on pedigree herd managers.

"For the pedigree breeder, who could so easily be a small family farmer, the loss could be emotionally devastating. Some of the people telephoning us for advice are frantic. Cows with breeding lines stretching back generations are going to be put down," he says.

Driven by the phone calls from anxious clients, one of whom stands to lose 140 of his 270 cows, Mr Turneys firm believes that, as well as offering professional guidance, the company also has a responsibility to offer counselling.

"We want to try to assure those who are in a high state of emotional turmoil that the slaughter of their cows is not the end of the world, even though it might seem to be."

A MAFF official said that at the start of the beef crisis, last March, the ministry had contacted the Samaritans to make sure the organisation was fully aware of the situation affecting cattle farmers. And he believed that government vets would do whatever they could to help any farmer who was distressed by the cull.