14 September 2001

Stock starvation threat as

movement rules unveiled

By Alistair Driver

HUNDREDS of thousands of animals face starvation over the winter because new foot-and-mouth movement controls will leave animals stranded on farms, the government has been warned.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has warned of "severe" welfare problems after arrangements for autumn livestock movements were unveiled on Tuesday (Sept 11). It says feed shortages and overcrowding caused by farmers being unable to move animals off farms will cause major problems this autumn.

Under the arrangements, announced by DEFRA minister Margaret Beckett, counties are split into F&M-free, at-risk and high-risk categories.

Farmers in at-risk and F&M-free counties can move stock relatively long distances under strictly licensed conditions.

But animals in high-risk counties, which include Cumbria, Northumberland, Lancashire and Powys, will be confined to their county other than in "exceptional circumstances". In addition, sheep cannot leave Devon, an at-risk county, until blood testing has been completed.

A high proportion of Britains cattle and sheep breeding herds are found in the worst affected counties. Huge numbers of store and breeding animals that would have gone elsewhere will be forced to stay put. The National Beef Association says over 60,000 suckled calves will be stuck on farms in Powys and Northumberland alone.

NFU president Ben Gill said the prospects for many livestock farmers are now "extremely bleak". "Farmers face the daunting prospect of winter approaching, with depleted feed supplies, increased stock numbers and a severe lack of cash flow."

He accepted "with a heavy heart" the principles behind the controls, which he said balance the need to control F&M and allow some stock to move.

But he said the NFU will be holding urgent talks with DEFRA ministers to seek higher payments under the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme to help farmers in high-risk areas.

The need for higher scheme payments was backed by the National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley. "If it is a wet autumn it will multiply the welfare problems in a dramatic way," he said.

But he welcomed measures that will first allow more sheep movement than seemed likely, even though all sheep from at risk and high areas will have to come from blood-tested flocks.

The government has not ruled out raising payment rates under the LWDS, which DEFRA junior minister Lord Whitty said are "reviewed regularly".

But NBA chief executive Robert Forster attacked moves to increase welfare payments. "We do not want to trash our industry if we can help it.

"The last thing we want is to lose more cattle to the welfare scheme," he said. "It is good that welfare payments are low as the government must now rescue livestock by helping to establish a forage and accommodation rescue plan." &#42

NBA and RSPCA representative have met government officials this week to discuss a possible rescue plan for affected farmers, he said.

Industry calls for help were backed by shadow DEFRA secretary Tim Yeo who said it "absolutely vital" that the government acts to avert a welfare crisis.