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Saturday, 16 June, 2001, 05:05 GMT 06:05 UK
Beckett extends hand to farmers
Margaret Beckett and with Major Robin Smith
Margaret Beckett faces a farming industry in crisis
Margaret Beckett has promised a culture of co-operation and openness within her new Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

She says her first priority is to eradicate foot-and-mouth disease, followed by a heavy emphasis on regeneration of the countryside in the wake of the outbreak.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,752 - Four on 16 June
3,331,000 animals slaughtered
8,203 premises with animals slaughtered or earmarked for slaughter
In her first interview since becoming secretary of state at Defra, Mrs Beckett told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme she had devised a scheme to regenerate the rural economy.

Farmers have expressed fears that by dropping agriculture from the new department's name, the government will move funding away from food production towards rural regeneration and environmental programmes.

Ideas that have already been discussed include paying farmers for maintaining wildlife habitats on their land, rather than concentrating solely on intensive production.

Reform

Mrs Beckett accepted this shift would form the background to discussions on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and made it clear she felt Britain would be "leading the pack" in pursuing such reform along greener lines.

Mrs Beckett faces a tough challenge in trying to bring a swift end to the foot-and-mouth crisis in which more than three million livestock animals throughout Britain have been destroyed.

Sheep on a farm in Cumbria
Foot-and-mouth: eradication a priority
She takes on her new role at a time when farming is in crisis, despite government pre-election claims the end of the foot-and-mouth epidemic was in sight.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has called for a full independent inquiry on the outbreak once the disease has been eradicated.

Earlier this week the new Rural Affairs Secretary said she could not comment on whether there would be a public inquiry into the continuing foot-and-mouth crisis, but it remained "under discussion."

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