15 March 2001
MAFF silent on foot-and-mouth dealers
By Alistair Driver
THE Ministry of Agriculture is refusing to name two dealers at the centre of the foot-and-mouth crisis known to have sold thousands of sheep to farmers.
Agriculture minister Nick Brown will unveil government plans to slaughter up to 100,000 apparently healthy sheep on Thursday (15 March).
Veterinary experts advising Mr Brown believe that the animals may be harbouring the disease, which is particularly difficult to spot in sheep.
They want to trace all sheep sold at Longtown market, Carlisle, on 15 and 22 February, Northampton (15 and 22 February) and Welshpool (19 February).
Mr Brown also wants to identify at-risk sheep which were handled by two dealers known to have unwittingly spread the virus widely across Britain.
But MAFF is refusing to name the dealers in question – even though doing so would make it easier for farmers to know if their livestock are at risk.
A ministry spokesman told FARMERS WEEKLY he was unable to tell the Press for reasons of commercial confidentiality.
But repeated assurances by Mr Brown that the government has the disease under control are now looking increasingly hollow.
John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, was initially shocked at the prospect of the pre-emptive cull.
But farmers whose financial plight is now desperate may welcome the cull if they were compensated, and it should help clear up the problem, he added.
NFU deputy director general Ian Gardiner said “It will be hard for the farmers involved. The common message from all farmers is Kill, kill, kill,” he said.
But organic researchers at the Elm Farm Research Centre demanded an end to the slaughter policy to control the disease, and want vaccines made available.
Director Lawrence Woodward said slaughter was indefensible in terms of animal welfare, anxiety and strain on those whose livelihoods are affected.
Mr Brown is also due to announce a solution to what he described as the “incredibly difficult” welfare problem caused by movement restrictions.
This may include the culling of pregnant ewes stuck out in fields where lambing cannot be supervised and food is running low.
North Devon sheep farmer Graham McCleod, who has more than 3000 sheep, said: “Im absolutely worried to death.
“I have grass for the ewes to go to after lambing, but Im not allowed to move them. If Im offered full compensation, Ill let them be killed. I have no choice.”
Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage