16 March 2001

SOUTH-WEST

Now its only a matter of time

THE mental torture continues. Many farmers in the south-west of England feel it is now a matter of when not whether they will they find foot-and-mouth in their livestock.

Ministry officials are under immense criticism after a decision to slaughter animals around an infected farm on Dartmoor was announced on the radio before farmers were told. Producers are unhappy about having healthy stock killed. Round here it has been a catalogue of disasters. Carcasses have been left outside for several days before incineration.

Farm minister, Nick Browns, repeated claims that the outbreak is under control have angered everyone. It seems obvious to us that the disease is not under control. The impact on related businesses gets worse by the day. As well as farmers, hauliers have no work and riding stables are closed for who knows how long.

Growing concern about the effect on other industries such as tourism prompted the South West Regional Development Agency to write an urgent letter to deputy prime minister, John Prescott, requesting aid. Not to be outdone, Devon County Council has written to Tony Blair, asking for a cross-department foot-and-mouth minister to oversee the crisis.

With much of Devon now classed as an infected area, hopes of movement licences to get pregnant ewes and cows home from off-land have gone. And from areas where licences are obtainable there have been calls for stricter instructions about vets inspecting all nearby stock before those under licence are moved.

Numerous farmers have commented on how co-operative the public has been in keeping away from livestock areas. Several farmers have started thinking about what they might do as a thank-you for that co-operation. Agriculture, it seems, is suddenly being recognised as a significant industry in the region.

John Burns