31 July 2001
Farmers ‘kept in dark’ over virus cash

By FWi staff

FARMERS leaders have accused the government of keeping them in the dark when it suddenly scrapped standard rates of foot-and-mouth compensation.

Ministers have taken away the option of standard valuations of animals amid concern that the cost of the disease was spiralling out of control.

The change in law came into effect one minute after midnight on Monday (30 July), before the National Farmers Union was told.

A spokesperson told The Daily Telegraph that the announcement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was “a complete surprise”.

A fax was apparently sent to the office of NFU president Ben Gill, who was away, and no-one from DEFRA checked to see if it had been received.

Later the NFU hit out at the announcement, which followed the suspension of all second-stage disinfection and cleaning, and cuts to welfare payments.

Deputy president Tim Bennett said that “every farmer should be treated equally” and “no one should be placed in a disadvantaged position when they go to bid for replacement livestock”.

He added: “The NFUs priority remains the eradication of foot-and-mouth disease. This should be the governments priority too.

“Neither this decision nor last weeks to suspend second-stage cleansing and disinfection do anything to help this.”

The Times says the valuations system was deeply flawed as it set a floor, pushing up rates for those who opted for independent valuation.

“Ministers have effectively opened the public purse to the farming community and invited it to help itself,” says the newspaper.

“Unsurprisingly, some farmers have taken the opportunity to do so.”

It warns that taxpayers will not be laughing when the National Audit Office produces its first official history next summer.

DEFRA has estimated that the crisis could cost taxpayers 2.28 billion.

Ministers are too willing to blame other people for the crisis while refusing to scrutinise their own actions, says the Daily Mail.

Claims that farmers are conniving in the infection of their own stock are very convenient for a government struggling to control the disease, it says.

This strategy was employed back in March with suggestions that sheep movements motivated by subsidy fraud helped spread the disease.

The Mail berates the government for “refusing to allow its own role in this tragedy to be scrutinised in a public inquiry”.

In contrast, “it has no qualms about putting farmers behaviour under the spotlight”.

  • The Times, 31 July, 2001, page 1, 4, 13
  • The Daily Telegraph, 31 July, 2001, page 1, 2
  • DailY Mail, 31 July, 2001, page 6,10

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