18 September 2001
Minister admits virus problems

By Wendy Owen, north-east England correspondent

RURAL affairs minister Alun Michael has admitted that the government is having difficulties helping farmers recover from foot-and-mouth disease.

During a visit to Yorkshires Regional Development Agency, Mr Michael stressed the need to approach the problem on a regional level.

There was a “big variation” in the level of suffering, he said, pointing out that some rural businesses had picked up by exploring new ways of operating.

Richard Ellison, north-east director of the National Farmers Union, said Mr Michael appeared to be sympathetic towards helping farmers.

“He told me the Government was aware of the financial and welfare problems caused by the autumn livestock movement restrictions,” said Mr Ellison.

Heather Hancock, environment director of Yorkshire Forward, said she had taken comfort from the Mr Michaels plan to tackle the crisis on a regional level.

But she appealed for more government funding to help the area recover.

“Our 4 million programme is aimed at getting the region back on track in creating a sustainable and diverse rural economy,” she said.

“However we also need more Government help, both in terms of extra funding and their continuing support.”

Mr Michael refused to be drawn on when the rural taskforce would publish its report on the effects of the disease on the countryside.

“At the moment it is my job is to listen to people around the country to try and understand what is needed,” he told listeners on Monday (17 September).

“Then we can establish the impact of foot-and-mouth on the rural economy and from there develop a sustainable policy for the countryside.”