Farmers warned to remain cautious of epidemic

Farmers warned to remain cautious of epidemic

July 5, 2001 Financial Times (London) by John Mason

The foot-and-mouth epidemic could worsen again if the disease is not eradicated this summer and new cases are still occurring this autumn, ministers warned yesterday.

Urging farmers to maintain measures to prevent the spread of the disease, Elliot Morley, a junior minister at the department of the environment, food and rural affairs, said the epidemic was now at its "tail-end".

However, he said complacency by farmers and others risked the disease continuing into the autumn. Defra announced it is supporting its warning by sending every farm a video about the need to maintain strict precautions. However, the risks of the general public spreading the disease were now minimal, Mr Morley said.

The disease is currently limited to a small number of local "hot-spots" such as Cumbria, North Yorkshire, mid-Wales and Devon.

Ministers are anxious the disease should be properly eradicated over the summer when hot weather helps kill the virus.

They admit the disease could take hold again and spread further once the weather worsens.

Ben Gill, the National Farmers' Union president, said: "We have to take advantage of the summer to give this virus nowhere to hide. The tail of the disease is proving very stubborn but if we cannot get it beaten by the autumn then we will be in serious trouble".

* Almost 40 per cent of British farms will be badly affected by the outbreak, according to a survey by the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

The epidemic has compounded other problems that could spell the end of the family farm, it said. The ICA's farming group survey showed only a quarter of farms had diversified and in only 12 per cent did diversification account for more than 10 per cent of farm incomes. Just 40 per cent of farms had firm succession plans in place.

Aubrey Davies, the group's chairman, said: "Virtually every type of farm in all regions is seeing a continuing fall in profits and erosion of farm capital, which must be reflected by rising overdrafts or ageing machinery.

"Diversification is clearly not yet providing a significant alternative source of income. We know diversification is often capital-intensive and, quite frankly, in many cases the capital is just not there. On many farms younger members of the family are seeking careers outside the industry".

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