18 May 2001
Speed up shearer scheme, urges NFU

By Alistair Driver

MINISTERS must act quickly to allow farmers in foot-and-mouth areas to get their sheep shorn and avert a welfare crisis, warn farmers representatives.

A new licensing scheme to control the movements of contract shearers, to minimise the risk of disease spread, is not due to come into force until 1 June.

But this will be too late, according to the National Farmers Union. Until then, farmers in infected areas cannot bring in contractors to do the job for them.

As the weather grows increasingly warm, this will cause major health and welfare problems, warns NFU Deputy President Tim Bennett.

The shearing of sheep is a high-risk activity in foot-and-mouth terms because the fleece acts as a sponge soaking up infection, he said.

But there is great pressure on farmers to get their sheep shorn as soon as possible for animal welfare reasons.

Everything possible must be done to bring forward its implementation, he added.

Already the NFU has called for urgent action to re-start the Over Thirty Months Scheme as soon as possible.

The backlog which is currently building up due to foot and mouth restrictions must be cleared before the autumn flush, the union said

Mr Bennett said demand for the scheme is growing with up to 200,000 OTMS animals now awaiting slaughter.

The figure increasing by up to 11,300 a week and the backlog has reached a critical level, he said.

When the outbreak began it was entirely appropriate to suspend the scheme, he said.

We now feel that with the number of cases falling there has been a downturn in demand for rendering capacity.

The time is right for there to be a resumption of OTMS with all the necessary foot and mouth controls in place.

It is imperative that this is cleared before the autumn when large numbers of cattle are usually put into the scheme, he said.

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