7 September 2001

F&Mpolicy short term

THE governments foot-and-mouth policy is a short-term fix designed to deal with the current outbreak but it offers no safeguards to prevent a future epidemic.

Thats the opinion of Cumbria NFU deputy county chairman Will Cockbain who has lost 30 cattle and 500 ewes from his 1400 Swaledale flock as contiguous culls.

"Even if we see an end to the current outbreak in a matter of weeks there are no guarantees that F&M will not strike again. We have watched 5m animals killed since February and yet we are no nearer keeping the disease out of the UK now as we were then.

"Over the last seven months no safeguards have been put in place by the government to stop F&M entering the UK. Legal and illegal meat imports are still arriving and there has been no tightening up of bio-security at airports or docks.

"But if F&M should strike again in the near future – and it may well be that sporadic outbreaks become the norm – we need to know what contingency plans have been formulated by the government," says Mr Cockbain of Rakefoot Farm, Keswick.

Cumbria farmers have asked the government for an urgent face- to-face meeting with senior vet Jim Scudamore.

"No one is going to tolerate another slaughter policy on this scale so there has to be an alternative. We want to know what that is and if vaccination is on the cards we want a full explanation of what it will entail.

"Farmers are not prepared to be sat on like we were in April and starved of information on such a major issue. We want to know the pros and cons and the worst case scenario should F&M hit the UK again."

Mr Cockbain believes that if the disease is not beaten within the next three weeks the risk of spread across the north of England will heighten dramatically.

"Is the government prepared to obliterate the entire hefted sheep stock of the northern counties by pursuing its slaughter policy ad infinitum? If that is the case we are facing the destruction not just of irreplaceable sheep but of the environmental, social and cultural bedrock of whole rural communities."

Mr Cockbain says DEFRA has failed to recognise the catastrophe facing the sheep industry if store and breeding stock cannot be moved until October.

"If stock has to be blood tested and results are not received back until late October many flocks will already be in the midst of an animal welfare crisis of frightening proportions.

"Its essential to instigate an immediate welfare scheme to relieve the backlog and take potential feeding lambs and cull ewes out of the system."

"That will temporarily ease the problem but there are still huge numbers of Mule ewe lambs to be moved; there simply wont be the keep on hill farms to feed these lambs after the end of September.

"But it will be a disaster for producers who have survived the crisis if they are forced to see top quality Mule breeding stock slaughtered on welfare grounds because DEFRA failed to set-up a scheme in time to save them," says Mr Cockbain.