17 May 2002

Government is

slated by locals

By FWreporters

CUMBRIAN farmers have attacked the governments handling of last years foot-and-mouth epidemic. Feelings ran high at a public meeting in Ulverston attended by about 40 people on Tuesday (May 14) as part of the countys public inquiry into the outbreak.

Charlotte Thexton, of Sayles Farm, Lowick Bridge, said she had challenged a request to cull their sheep, but was pressured to give into the slaughter. She said: "We were told we could only delay it a few days and legal steps would be taken to enforce the slaughter."

Mrs Thexton told the inquiry that an official disinfectant team was "useless" and she and her husband had had to clean the farm themselves after the cull. She was also scathing at the lack of information from MAFF, now DEFRA.

Josephine Baxter, who farms at Blawith, said she received a follow-up letter from DEFRA after stock belonging to another farmer were culled on their land. "Its first line was owing to foot-and-mouth on your farm, all your stock have been culled. I mean, did somebody think wed gone to sleep and missed it?"

Vet Rick Brown, who worked at DEFRAs field office in Broughton, said there was enormous pressure to kill stock to try and get on top of the outbreak. "The view was that it didnt get under control because they werent killing quickly enough," he said. "It was pressure, pressure, pressure to kill quickly."

Inquiry chairman Phil Thomas asked the audience what could be done to restore their confidence in DEFRA and government officials. Told that DEFRA simply did not understand farming, he said he wouldnt disagree and added that there were very few agriculturalists in the department.

Prof Thomas said farmers may be able to access funding from sources such as the Rural Action Zone scheme to secure their livelihoods. But he stressed that they needed to grasp the opportunity themselves and not wait for the government to sort out the problems of agriculture.

The horrors of last years epidemic must never be repeated, members of the inquiry team were told at Salterbeck, Workington, on Monday (May 13).

Some sheep farmers at the meeting said they wanted a positive change in agriculture, but could see no way forward for them in the aftermath of the outbreak. The inquiry will conclude with a four-day hearing in Carlisle from May 28-31. A final report is expected to be sent to Cumbria County Council on July 25.