10 August 2001
Press banned from virus meetings

By Simon Wragg

JOURNALISTS have been banned from meetings between government officials and farmers who have lost livestock in the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs invited journalists to a briefing prior to one of the first regional meetings on Friday (10 August).

But it shut out reporters before talks began with up to 100 affected producers and government officials at Harper Adams University College, Shropshire.

DEFRA regional manager Carol Deakins said: “It would be inappropriate for the press to be present; it may intrude on producers feelings at this time.

She added: “What we want today is to hear producers views on what DEFRA can do to help them get back to normality.”

But a return to farming may not be top of DEFRAs priorities. There was little mention of food production in a newsletter circulated at the meeting.

Instead, the document concentrates on schemes involving countryside stewardship, environmentally sensitive areas and rural business.

Having acknowledged that some producers may want to resume livestock production, Ms Deakins said other options were also open for consideration.

“All the options are open from environmental schemes, tourism, on-farm retailing, many of which will come under the England Rural Development Plan.

“The important thing is we want to hear what producers have in mind. We cant assume to know without hearing it first.”

Civil servants believe farmers on culled-out farms are in a phase of “considered thinking” about what to do after the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Producers have access to a free five-day business advice service to help reconstruct businesses now pyres have been extinguished.

But without any media presence, only farmers who attend the meetings will be able to judge whether officials have listened and reacted to their needs.

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