Farmers 'infecting livestock to claim compensation'

Farmers 'infecting livestock to claim compensation'

July 30, 2001 The Daily Telegraph (London) by David Brown

THE Government is investigating allegations that farmers are deliberately infecting their sheep and cattle with the foot and mouth virus to claim compensation far in excess of their market value.

Some evidence has already been found in Cumbria, where rumours have been circulating about infected ears and tails from farms stricken with foot and mouth being offered to owners of healthy livestock.

At least one suspect lamb's tail has been found on a farm in the area. Officers of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' investigation unit are looking into the find and police will be called in if the unit is satisfied there is a case to answer.

One minister said of the discovery: "At the moment we are not sure if this is a publicity stunt by someone, or what it is. We are investigating."

Inquiries are also going on in Wales, where one Pembrokeshire farmer claims that an anonymous telephone caller offered to sell her a diseased sheep for pounds 2,000 so that she could infect her own animals.

The allegations raise questions about the Government's livestock compensation terms.

Generous terms were announced by Nick Brown, the last minister of agriculture, soon after the epidemic began. Farmers were offered attractive set rates for their sheep and cattle if they decided against having them individually valued before being culled.

Relatively few farmers have taken advantage of the set rate. Instead it has been used as a means of putting a "bottom" in the market - inflating sheep and cattle prices beyond normal market value. Older farmers admit that they would be better off "taking the money and running", quitting the industry altogether rather than struggling to survive.

However, farmers have overwhelmingly denied spreading the virus deliberately. They claim that there is an attempt by Government spin doctors to distract attention from its mishandling of the epidemic.

The National Farmers' Union of England and Wales said last night that it had "no evidence" of deliberate infection. It was worried that the Government seemed to be pointing the finger of suspicion at farmers.

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