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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Farmers hit back in money row
Foot-and-mouth has cost more than 2bn so far
Farmers' leaders have reacted angrily to suggestions that some farmers are profiteering from the foot-and-mouth crisis.

MPs have announced an investigation into the cost of compensation for slaughtered livestock, after it emerged 37 farmers had each made claims for more than 1m.

Farmers have been further angered by one minister's suggestion they should take out insurance against future outbreaks of the disease.

Disease facts
Total cases: 1,928
No new cases Sunday
Animals slaughtered: 3,671,000
Awaiting slaughter: 29,000
Awaiting disposal: 20,000
The foot-and-mouth epidemic is thought to have already cost taxpayers more than 2bn.

National Farmers' Union leader Ben Gill criticised the "potentially damaging" way the claims had been presented, which he said could be the result of someone "spinning against farmers".

He told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour: "I am not surprised that some farmers' capital assets or breeding stock... amount to this sort of money."

Insurance 'unworkable'

The largest compensation payment so far, according to reports, was 4.2m to a Dumfries farmer whose herds of Charolais and Limousin cattle were culled in March.

Mr Gill dismissed the idea that farmers should take out disease insurance as unworkable, because of the government's "pathetic" attempts to keep the disease out of Britain.

NFU leader Ben Gill
Ben Gill rejects allegations that farmers have falsified compensation claims
"Insurers are not prepared to take this risk on any more unless the government is prepared to do something and has agreed to police our borders, and they are demonstrably not doing it."

But rural affairs minister Elliot Morley told BBC Radio 4's Today programme insurance was an option that would be looked at by any inquiry.

Mr Morley vehemently denied that the government had leaked figures or taken an anti-farmer stance in secret briefings.

Rising cost

"I find it bewildering these stories are claimed to be from the government - a lot of these figures are in the public domain."

He maintained there was concern over levels of compensation, adding: "Compensation of cattle in particular has steadily risen throughout this outbreak which is of some concern to me."

Compensation of cattle has steadily risen throughout this outbreak which is of some concern to me

Elliot Morley
Rural affairs minister
National Beef Association chief executive Robert Foster said it was understandable that larger sums would be paid for cattle which were almost "genetic masterpieces".

"The agenda is being set by the government.

"It appears to have its Millbank spin machine working very heavily here and trying to pretend that farmers welcome foot-and-mouth and see it as a means of making money."

Mr Foster insisted the rules on compensation had been set before the virus took hold but welcomed scrutiny which would confirm the fairness of payments.

He added: "Farmers are certainly seen as a soft target and the government certainly seems to be determined to give them a good kicking."

European threat

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that revelations about certain compensation payouts looked like a government attempt to divert attention away from the manner in which it is handling the crisis.

It has also been reported that the European Union - which is meeting up to 60% of the compensation cost - is threatening to hold back payments until fraud claims are investigated.

A National Audit Office report into the cost effectiveness of the government's response to the outbreak will form the basis for an investigation to be carried out by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

One farmer, whose 1,500 sheep and 900 cattle were slaughtered, has denied reports he made 1.3m out of the cull and then bragged about it in his local pub.

Willie Cleave of Burdon Farm in Highampton, near Okehampton, North Devon, said he had received between 500,000 and 1m because of "low value" compensation near the start of the outbreak.

The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"The system will change in the future"
Les Armstrong, NFU
"[Compensation] varies according to the livestock"
Tim Yeo MP, shadow rural affairs minister
"There must be proper scrutiny"
See also:

05 Aug 01 | UK
Farmers claim 1m payouts
25 Jul 01 | Wales
Disease hits Beacons flocks
05 Aug 01 | Scotland
Farmer in '4.2m payout'
06 Aug 01 | Business
Why are farmers not insured?
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