1.5m healthy lambs face slaughter

1.5m[illion] healthy lambs face slaughter

August 2, 2001 Financial Times (London) by Cathy Newman

Up to 1.5m healthy lambs are set to be slaughtered because foot-and-mouth disease has prevented them being exported or moved to new pasture, the government will announce today.

The lambs cannot be exported while Britain is in the grip of the disease and cannot be switched to fresh grass to prevent starvation because of movement restrictions.

As a result, Lord Whitty, junior rural affairs minister, will tell farmers today that the government has no alternative but to kill the animals and compensate the farmers.

The scale of the slaughter raises further questions about Tony Blair's assertion in the run up to the general election that the disease was on the "home straight". It will also increase the amount of taxpayers' money to be paid out in compensation. So far almost 5m animals have been slaughtered since the epidemic began in February.

The majority of the 1m to 1.5m animals at risk are small hill lambs that would usually be exported to the Mediterranean and barbecued whole. The rest would be moved to fresh pasture to be fattened up for the domestic market.

Tim Yeo, shadow rural affairs minister, said: "The epidemic is clearly not over ... That is very damaging to the industry, and it will presumably also be costly to the taxpayer."

Compensation will be paid out under the welfare disposal scheme, where animals are killed to avoid unnecessary suffering.

Sheep farmers have been urging the government to consider putting some of the meat in cold storage, or to give it to the military. The National Farmers' Union expressed hope last night that fewer lambs would have to die and that some of those slaughtered would be bought by supermarkets. But British consumers have proved reluctant to buy meat from smaller lambs, and with the continued export ban, farmers' leaders recognise that many will have to be killed and buried.

Lord Whitty is to make the announcement at an NFU sheep farming conference at the University of Warwick at which delegates will discuss a strategy for lifting the export ban on British meat. Before the foot-and-mouth epidemic, the UK exported about 125,000 tonnes of lamb a year, a third of domestic production.

There was some good news for the beleaguered farming industry yesterday, however. Devon, one of the first foot-and-mouth hot spots, was officially declared free of the disease.

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