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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 15:57 GMT
Foot-and-mouth risk 'still there'
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Two gambolling lambs   PA
Farmers "could not face mass slaughter again"
The United Kingdom is still in danger from imported diseases like the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, the National Farmers' Union leader says.

Tim Bennett, newly-elected president of the NFU, told BBC News Online Britain's borders were not protected well enough.

He said farmers could not bear a repeat of the epidemic three years ago, which saw the slaughter of about 6m animals.

Mr Bennett said contingency planning to tackle any new outbreak must be better, and many animals should be vaccinated.

The farmers' new leader used to have dairy cattle, but is now establishing a beef herd and rearing enterprise on his farm in west Wales.

Never again

He said: "I don't think we've yet solved the problem with imported diseases we had in 2001, when foot-and-mouth broke out here.

"We are still bringing plant diseases into the UK, and our borders are porous compared with places like Australia and North America.

"And we need a much better contingency plan to make sure, if there is an outbreak, we don't have to go through the mess we had in 2001 again.

"Farmers can't afford it, and we don't want to see that number of animals slaughtered again - it was bad economically, and bad for the way people saw us.

"In any future outbreak vaccination would play a part - the technology has moved on from where it was three years ago."

Mr Bennett's predecessor as NFU president, Sir Ben Gill, said the Prince of Wales had intervened and suggested vaccination to try to prevent the mass slaughter in the 2001outbreak, whose total costs are put at about 8bn ($15.25bn).

Bumpy ride ahead

Mr Bennett said the number of farmers in the UK had been declining for 40 years, though the percentage represented by the union was rising.

He said: "In five to 10 years from now, I think the big issues will be finding enough labour to work the farms, and water resources in the east of England.

Tim Bennett   NFU
Tim Bennett: "We must deal with the world as it is"
"Farming is changing - it's about to undergo a revolution when the European Union switches subsidies away from growing food to one-off payments linked to environmental protection.

"We can't compete on price with some producers, like Thailand and its chickens. We'll never, ever be able to say we can produce beef at the price they do in Brazil.

"But we have to persuade consumers to pay a bit more for British food produced safely, with good animal health and welfare standards.

Pragmatic operator

"Some people say farmers are going to become park-keepers, busy maintaining landscapes and wildlife and not really growing anything.

"We'll be getting public money for looking after the environment. But I don't think you can get people to farm unless they really are part of the food supply chain.

"Being elected to this job can be something of a poisoned chalice, and no NFU president is ever popular.

"What I won't do is mislead the members. We have to be frank about the world and deal with it as it is, not as we'd like it to be."




SEE ALSO:
Welsh farmer leads NFU
17 Feb 04  |  Wales
Foot-and-mouth goes virtual
18 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature


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