6 August 2001
Ministers ‘concerns’ at cattle payments
By FWi staff
A MINISTER has strongly hinted that he believes farmers are profiteering from the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs junior minister Elliot Morley expressed unease over compensation levels paid for culled cattle.
Mr Morley told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that he was concerned by increases in independently calculated rates.
“Compensation of cattle in particular has steadily risen throughout this outbreak which is of some concern to me,” he said.
The minister was speaking after it emerged over the weekend that 37 farmers had each made claims for more than 1m.
Farmers leaders and the Conservatives accused ministers of spinning the story and taking an anti-farmer stance in secret briefings.
Tory agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo said the stories looked like a government attempt to divert attention away from its handling of the crisis.
National Beef Association chairman Robert Robinson said: The manipulative skills of the governments media specialists are legendary.
The press attention they encourage has long been seen as a public signal of what lies close to the Cabinets heart.
We know farmers are a soft target but this really is a kicking too far.
But Mr Morley dismissed this out of hand. “I find it bewildering these stories are claimed to be from the government.
A lot of these figures are in the public domain.”
Farmers also expressed anger at revived suggestions by junior minister Lord Whitty that they take out insurance against future virus outbreaks.
National Farmers Union president Ben Gill said insurers would not take the risk unless “pathetic” measures to keep the virus out were improved.
But Mr Morley told Today that insurance was an option that would be looked at by any inquiry into the epidemic.
It is also reported that the EU, which will pay up to 60% of compensation costs, may keep back payments until claims of fraud are investigated.
A National Audit Office report into the financial aspects of the outbreak will form the basis for an investigation by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
And the Agriculture Select Committee has said it will investigate the compensation system when Parliament resumes, reports The Independent.
Meanwhile, Lord Haskins, a strong critic of inefficient farms and subsidies, has been appointed head of a task force to revive areas hit by the virus.
The Guardian reports that the Lord Haskins will be given the role of rural recovery co-ordinator and provide Tony Blair with hands-on advice.
Lord Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods, has spoken out against mollycoddled farmers and predicted that many small farms may disappear.
No new cases of foot-and-mouth were reported on Sunday. The UK total stands at 1928 cases.
FREE NEWS UPDATE
Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage