8 June 2001

Welfare disposal rates cut brings furious response

By Andrew Shirley

LIVESTOCK associations have reacted angrily to MAFF proposals to slash rates payable under the welfare disposal scheme.

The ministry is already facing court action after it cut payments on Apr 30, in a move the NFU claimed was illegal.

The mooted changes are part of a consultation process that closed on Monday, and the results are due after the general election.

If the suggested new rates become reality, stockmen will be looking at compensation levels well below current market prices or, in certain cases, nothing at all.

But a MAFF spokeswoman stressed that the proposals were not "set in stone" and industry views would be taken into account before finalising any new plans.

But not everyone is convinced. "I do wonder how much the government will listen to our comments," said a spokesman for the National Sheep Association.

"I appreciate the ministry has reduced the need for the welfare scheme by relaxing movement restrictions, but when there are still people affected, it does seem pointless to have a scheme where the payments are so low." If the revised MAFF figures were adopted, sheep farmers who previously received 95p/kg lwt, capped at £32 a lamb, would get only 50p/kg lwt, capped at £18. Payments for cull/empty ewes and hoggets would be axed completely.

Pig farmers are even more incensed. "If this consultation is not to be a charade, the government must listen to stakeholders," said Ian Campbell, regional manager of the National Pig Association.

Payments for cull sows could be withdrawn and pigs would qualify for only £8 a head plus 36p/kg lwt.

"The payments must go back to their previous levels," said Mr Campbell. "The cull sow position has become impossible. The government does not seem to recognise the damage it is doing to the industry."

But MAFF insisted the lack of an export market for cull sows was not a welfare issue and would be dealt with separately.

Simon Lunniss, the NFUs head of commodities, argued that market-driven payments could quickly lead to welfare problems.

"MAFF needs to come up with a package that helps farmers who are being penalised through no fault of their own." &#42