6 March 2001
Minister calls for fair play on meat

By Alistair Driver

AGRICULTURE minister Nick Brown has called for fair play as farmers unaffected by foot-and-mouth disease send more livestock to abattoirs.

But he refused to criticise slaughterhouse owners who farmers accuse of forcing down livestock prices despite a meat shortage caused by the crisis.

More than 200 slaughterhouses have been approved to date by the Meat Hygiene Service and are accepting livestock for human consumption.

But the licensing system permitting farmers in unaffected areas to send livestock for slaughter was not a return to normal trade, said Mr Brown.

The price paid by abattoirs for livestock from farmers was an issue for the trade and not the government, he told journalists at a briefing in London.

Two more cases of foot-and-mouth were announced, both on Cumbrian farms linked to Longtown market, Carlisle. There have now been 76 confirmed cases.

Abattoirs slaughtering livestock still faced risks, said Mr Brown. He added: “I appeal to everyone in the supply chain to treat each other fairly.”

Mr Brown ruled out any form of intervention, saying the government had no powers requiring that abattoirs paid a minimum price for livestock.

The government was monitoring prices and Mr Brown said he had seen no evidence that lower prices were being offered because of foot-and-mouth.

He also ruled out requests from some livestock producers that the government should buy and store animal hides and fleeces until the crisis is fully over.

Mr Brown said: “This would be a state aid, but the government would not do it anyway. It really is a matter for the trade.”

The Farmers Union of Wales has warned that farmers may be paid less for animals while consumers were having to pay more for meat.

“This is a ridiculous situation,” said Arwyn Owen, the unions deputy director of agricultural policy.

“Once again the farmer appears to have to bear the brunt of the costs of the middlemen in the industry.”

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