23 July 2001
Anger as Blair halts virus clean-up
By Alistair Driver
FARM leaders have criticised Tony Blairs decision to suspend the disinfection of farms hit by foot-and-mouth disease.
The Prime Minister has put the clean-up operation on hold while the government reviews the cost of disinfecting farms.
But the National Farmers Union said the decision created uncertainty for farmers trying to rebuild businesses after foot-and-mouth.
An NFU spokeswoman said: “We are angry about the suspension of final cleaning and disinfection operations.
She added: “This will leave hundreds of farmers in limbo, unable to plan re-stocking and rebuild their businesses.”
A statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) confirmed that the “secondary cleansing” of farms had been halted.
“The status of preliminary cleansing and disinfection has not altered,” it said.
“This is the cleansing and disinfection that takes place immediately animals have been slaughtered in order to prevent the disease spreading.
“What is being halted is the start of secondary cleansing and disinfection which is aimed at preventing recurrrence of the disease when farmers re-stock.”
Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, said the decision had created additional tension and worry for farmers.
“It is outrageous that this vital operation to clean up affected farms has been halted without any discussion whatsoever,” he added.
Michael Hart, chairman of the Small and Family Farms Alliance, described the suspension of disinfecting farms as unbelievable.
“It makes you wonder whether anyone is really is in charge, as DEFRA seemed to be taken by surprise by the news.”
Mr Blairs decision to suspend the clean-up operation was revealed by The Daily Telegraph, which obtained a leaked government memo.
In the memo, the Prime Minister reveals his belief that the cost of the clean-up operation after foot-and-mouth is unacceptable.
The 104,000 cost of disinfecting each farm in England and Wales is much higher than in Scotland, where the average bill is 30,000, said the Telegraph.
But the NFU spokeswoman said Mr Blair had promised at the beginning of the outbreak that all necessary resources would be put into fighting the disaster.
Conservative agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo told the Radio 4 Today programme that any review of the cost should take place immediately.
“A delay of more than a few days will be a death sentence for many farmers who depend on this clean-up operation in order to get back into business.”
In a separate development, the RSPCA has warned that foot-and-mouth could return to epidemic levels because too few blood tests have been undertaken.
It believes the disease could be spreading undetected. The mass screening of 10,000 sheep in the Brecon Beacons National Park began on Sunday (July 22).
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said only 0.16% of 300,000 sheep tested within three miles of infected farms have tested positive.
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