25 February 2000
Open-day fears after E coli scare

By Isabel Davies

FARMS opening their gates to the public for charity this weekend are hoping that visitors will be undeterred by recent comments made by a food safety expert.

It is less than a week since Professor Hugh Pennington called for an end for farm visits for children under five-years-old because of the risk of E coli infection.

Prof Pennington, who chaired the E coli investigation in Lanarkshire three years ago, urged parents to keep all young children away from farms.

But more than 80 farms are about to open their doors to show local children new-born lambs in an NFU initiative which aims to raise 20,000 for the NSPCC.

Barry Davies, of the National Farm Attractions Network, said phone lines had been busy since Prof Penningtons remarks which were reported on television.

Some farms are having cancellations.

Mr Davies said: “This is going to cause a certain amount of panic for the industry.”

By coincidence, crisis management is one of the topics of discussion at the organisations annual conference which begins on Friday (25 February).

Nigel Embury, chief executive of the Farm Holiday Bureau, said it would be tragic if the advice put people off visiting farms for a holiday.

Farm holidays were ideal family holidays, and worth more than 15 million to the farm industry, he said.

But John Newton-Jones of the National Association for Farms for Schools, said farms were safe so long as Health and Safety guidelines were followed.

Guidelines introduced in 1997 include advice on washing facilities, animal contact, eating areas and information and signs.

“We are not seeing any reduction in the numbers of schools wanting to come to farms nor are we expecting any,” said Mr Newton-Jones.

This is not new to teachers and not new to parents.”

Around 14 million people visited British farms last year. But in the past 10 years only around 40 cases of E coli have been connected to farm visits.

A spokeswoman for the English Tourism Council said visits to farms should be encouraged as part of a trend for more distinctive and different holidays.

Peter Gooderman, a doctor and prospective Conservative candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire, described the advice as nanny-state madness.

“The positive benefits of a healthy outdoor lifestyle are not going to be encouraged if we misinform children that farms are dangerous places.”