3 August 2001

NFUdigs in on anti-jab policy

By Alistair Driver

and Robert Davies

THE NFU is maintaining its opposition to a foot-and-mouth vaccination programme despite increasing farmer support for the policy.

The government is making provisional plans to vaccinate livestock around Thirsk, in North Yorks, where F&M threatens to spread into the heart of the UK pig herd. There are also reports of plans being drawn up in other F&M hotspots.

Farming support for vaccination in the affected areas is growing. But the government maybe reluctant to proceed without the support of NFU president Ben Gill.

Mr Gill, along with other farm leaders, effectively vetoed Prime Minister Tony Blairs plans to vaccinate cattle in Devon and Cumbria in April. He said the government failed to allay numerous concerns the union had about the effectiveness and commercial impact of vaccination.

Speaking to FARMERS WEEKLY in London on Tuesday, Mr Gill said vaccination is not an option to safeguard the Yorkshire pig industry. It would delay the resumption of exports from the region by years and would cause abortions in sows, he said.

But National Pig Association producer group chairman Stewart Houston said the NPA would back firebreak vaccination around Thirsk as a last resort.

He has discussed the possibility with government officials and said it could be needed to prevent F&M spreading.

Support for vaccination is growing among the five graziers associations on the Brecon Beacons, where thousands of sheep grazing commonland have already been culled. Edwyn Harris, chairman of a group at Libanus said: "Some graziers are still totally opposed [to F&M vaccination], but others believe that, with exports unlikely to resume for several years, a limited scheme for hefted flocks is the best way forward."

Janet Bayley, a spokeswoman for the pro-vaccination Foot-and-Mouth Group, said current control policies were tearing the heart out of the Welsh hills.

But Wales rural affairs minister Carwyn Jones rejected the groups proposal for a vaccination scheme for hefted flocks this week. &#42

Farmers near the cluster of cases south of Penrith, Cumbria, are still divided on vaccination, said Cumbrian farmer and NFU livestock chairman Les Armstrong.

The pro-organic body, the Soil Association, said it believed grassroots support for vaccination was definitely growing and claimed that it was now questionable whether the disease could be eradicated in any other way.