2 August 2001
Whitty set to announce light-lamb relief

By Isabel Davies

THE government is expected to introduce a new buy-out welfare scheme to take an estimated 1.5 million unmarketable light lambs off the market.

Food minister Lord Whitty is expected to make an announcement regarding the scheme at a sheep industry conference in Warwick on Thursday (2 August).

The conference, organised by the National Farmers Union, will discuss the future of sheep farming and the “forgotten victims” of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

NFU president Ben Gill said: “For every farmer who has lost animals because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak it has been an unspeakable nightmare.

“But for every one of them there are many forgotten victims whose animals have not been slaughtered who are in an even worse situation.”

The ongoing export ban has left many farmers with no market for their animals which have been bred especially for the overseas market.

Before foot-and-mouth, the UK exported about 125,000 tonnes of lamb a year, a third of domestic production worth about 210 million.

The government fears that unless it intervenes there will be meltdown in the sheep sector and terrible welfare problems because animals cannot be moved.

It is expected that compensation paid out under the welfare disposal scheme will be pegged at 10 a light lamb.

These rates are unlikely to go down well with farmers who fear that setting payments at such a low level will drag down the market.

The Farmers Union of Wales has suggested that payments should be set at 20-25 a lamb, which was the going rate at this time last year.

The welfare scheme will be the second measure to help the industry in a week where officials have attempted to stave off problems in the sheep sector.

Farmers leaders have welcomed a European Commission announcement on Monday (30 July) to provide private storage aid for sheep meat.

The scheme will be open to tenders from the trade from 27 August, allowing successful applicants to freeze meat and store it for up to seven months.

The aim is to take immediate pressure off the market. Lambs will be released to compete with New Zealand lamb later in the season.

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Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage