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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 15:47 GMT
Brown attacked over pig crisis
A farm is isolated after an outbreak of swine fever
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown is out of touch with the pig farmers who have lost millions of pounds as a result of an outbreak of swine fever, a Tory MP has said.

Mid Norfolk's Keith Simpson told a debate in the parallel chamber of the Commons, Westminster Hall, that his constituents were living a "horror story" as a result of the disease.

The failure of the responsible cabinet minister to come and see for himself is a failure and it bears directly on the anger and frustration felt by pig farmers

Keith Simpson
Mr Simpson compared Mr Brown to a World War One general who told his men that he felt their pain while they were in the trenches and he was "dealing with the paper work" behind the lines.

The Tory MP said farmers were appalled at the agriculture minister's failure to visit them almost three months after the outbreak of swine fever had been reported.

More than 20 million is expected to have been lost by pig farmers in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

Incomes below minimum wage

And the timing of the outbreak in August was after a four-year period in which farm incomes had slumped to below the minimum wage, Mr Simpson said.

The disease, which is highly infectious, has prompted the slaughter of 175,000 pigs - even though only a small fraction were actually sick.

Mr Simpson said that farmers had come under such great pressure to slaughter the pigs that they were resorting to using rifles to kill the sick animals.

And he said that Nick Brown had made a promise to come and the problems for himself at the Labour conference in Brighton in September.

"He has broken that promise, there's no doubt about it. The failure of the responsible cabinet minister to come and see for himself is a failure and it bears directly on the anger and frustration felt by pig farmers."

Sympathy with farmers

Replying to the debate, deputy agriculture minister Joyce Quin expressed sympathy with the farmers but she rejected suggestions that the government's response to the situation was slow or chaotic.

Ministers had repeatedly met with representatives from the pig industry and agriculture minister Baroness Hayman had visited the area.

Ms Quin said: "The government has acted speedily in order to help farmers, both in the affected areas and outside the immediate affected area, to ensure the disease is tackled as speedily and effectively as possible."

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04 Oct 00 | UK
Swine fever hits 15th farm
19 Aug 00 | UK
Swine fever hopes raised
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