29 August 2001
Inquiry chief linked to virus scare

By Johann Tasker

THE head of a government inquiry into foot-and-mouth is chairman of a company linked to the possible spread of the disease, Farmers Weekly can reveal.

Sir Don Curry, who is leading the Commission into the Future of Farming, is chairman of the livestock marketing group North Country Primestock.

Seven Scottish farms are now under foot-and-mouth restrictions after being visited by North Country Primestock managing director John Horncastle.

Mr Horncastle was visiting the farms with a view to buying lamb for the company which usually handles about 20,000 cattle and 150,000 sheep a year.

Foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed on Mr Horncastles home farm in Allendale, Northumberland, on 26 August. There are now 13 cases in the area.

Restrictions on the seven farms visited by Mr Horncastle have devastated producers in Scotland who had hoped to apply for disease-free status.

Disease free status, which could have been applied for on Thursday (30 August), will not now be granted because of the restricted farms.

It means Scottish producers face an uncertain wait for the resumption of meat and livestock exports from farms north of the Border.

The Scottish farms are likely to remain sealed off for at least two more weeks, after which blood samples will be checked for signs of the disease.

But more restrictions on other Scottish farms may be likely. Government officials are trying to trace other holdings which are thought to be at risk.

Farmers Weekly understands that Mr Horncastle was accompanied by a buyer from Aberdeenshire on a visit to at least one of the restricted farms.

The revelations will be an embarrassment to Sir Don who was asked by Tony Blair to help pave the way forward for farming in the wake of the disease.

Sir Don helped set up North Country Primestock in 1991 to strengthen the relationship between farmers marketing their livestock and retailers.

The company was successful and has established strong links with Tesco, Britains biggest supermarket, as well as a number of other large retailers.

Sir Don, a former chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission, has farmed at Middle Farm, near Hexham, Northumberland, for 20 years.

But last weeks resurgence of foot-and-mouth in the county after nearly three months put paid to hopes that the county would be declared disease-free soon.

Nobody from North Country Primestock was available for comment.

But a company statement said farm visits were carried out only on the request of individual farmers and all recommended biosecurity measures were taken.

Visits have been strictly limited to those directly concerned with helping farmers maximise their marketing opportunities during these very difficult times.

The statement said that the visits to the Scottish farms were made before any new outbreak was suspected in Northumberland.

Mr Horncastle has had all necessary biosecurity measures in place on his farm and has no day-to-day contact with his livestock, it added.

Immediately after the first confirmed case in Allendale on 24 August, Mr Horncastle has remained on his farm, the statement said.

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