29 March 2001
Farm leaders meet Blair
By FWi staff
FARMERS leaders were meeting the Prime Minister on Thursday morning (March 29) to stress how they want to see the foot-and-mouth outbreak handled.
Tony Blair is playing an increasingly prominent role in tackling the epidemic as it wreaks havoc with his plans for a general election.
He heard that farmers are extremely concerned about plans to move from relying totally on a slaughter policy and introduce vaccination.
National Farmers Union president Ben Gill was due to tell him that, if the Government is to change its approach, then farmers must be properly briefed first.
“I have continued to stress that the views and feelings of local farmers are absolutely critical in this,” said Mr Gill.
“It is they who will have to live with the results of any further action, including any limited use of vaccination.”
It is critical that everyone remains focused on culling animals on neighbouring farms and reducing identification-to-slaughter time to 24 hours, he added.
“This approach offers the only way to turn the rising daily total number of cases around and enter a period of a steady decline in numbers.”
But Jim Walker, president of the Scottish NFU, was expected to reiterate his fierce opposition to the use of vaccination as a means of controlling the disease.
Mr Walker has made it clear that he thinks the logistics of actually vaccinating thousands of animals mean it will take too long to implement.
He is also concerned that vaccinated animals are likely to be condemned to death once the disease is brought under control.
Ulster Farmers Union president Douglas Rowe planned to urge the Prime Minister to support its attempts to get restrictions lifted on a regional basis.
Northern Ireland has only had one confirmed outbreak so far and, says Mr Rowe, is clearly in different circumstances to the rest of the UK.
“We now have a clear opportunity to recommence food exports next week, and everyone in the Province is working towards that goal,” he said.
“There has also been some easing of restrictions for the general public, who have been very supportive.
“It is very important that the UK Government continues to support our efforts for regionalisation,” he added.
It remains to be seen whether these efforts will be hampered by a second suspected foot-and-mouth case just across the border in the Irish Republic.
The new feared outbreak has been reported in Co Louth, near to where the virus was confirmed on a sheep farm last week.
Irish agriculture department officials said they were more concerned about the development than anything else reported in the country over the past few days.
At 11.30 on Thursday, 742 cases of foot-and-mouth had been confirmed in the UK.
Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage