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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
Farm clean-up delay condemned
disinfection
Farmers may have to pay for part of the cleansing
The government's decision to temporarily halt the final cleansing of farms affected by foot-and-mouth disease has been condemned by farmers' leaders and the opposition.

Downing Street has said a two-week review is necessary to find out why farms in England and Wales are costing an average of 100,000 to disinfect - far higher than in Scotland and Europe.

Some contractors might be exploiting the crisis to make a quick profit, according to the minister for farming and the food industry, Lord Whitty.

He told BBC News: "We have spent over 2bn on this disease in total and we need to make sure any additional monies are spent wisely and sensibly and we are not taken for a ride."

'Cruel blow'

But William Hague described the move as another "cruel blow" to Britain's farmers and demanded to know why estimates of the true cost of the clean-up were not made sooner.

And President of the National Farmers' Union, Ben Gill, said the delay would prevent farmers getting back into business.

Meanwhile, efforts have been stepped up to tackle the disease "hot spot" in North Yorkshire with the creation of a special "bio-security zone".

Across the rest of England and Wales, the government will continue preliminary cleansing and disinfecting but will halt the secondary cleansing, which goes on prior to re-stocking to prevent a recurrence of the disease, while the review takes place.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total cases: 1,884
Slaughtered: 3,593,000
New cases Tuesday: 1
Awaiting slaughter: 27,000
Awaiting disposal: 11,000
A memo issued by the government's co-ordination centre set up to tackle the disease revealed that Prime Minister Tony Blair had personally demanded a check on "unacceptable" spending.

It is feared the total bill, presently running at 2m a day, could top 800m.

In Scotland, the cost to disinfect farms is said to be 30,000 and elsewhere in Europe it is about 10,000.

To date only 1,700 farms out of over 8,000 have received final cleansing and disinfection and only 75m has been paid out.

'Mismanagement'

Mr Hague is asking why the cost of disinfecting farms across England and Wales was not known sooner.

He said: "The government should have had those costs under control in the first place and should have been able to bring them under control without holding up the clean-up process."


The prime minister has indicated that six-figure sums per farm are unacceptable

Government memo
Farmers and rural communities were suffering "at the hands of government mismanagement and incompetence," Mr Hague added.

He also repeated his call for a public inquiry into the handling of the crisis and accused the government of "constant dither and delay".

But a spokesman for Mr Blair said the delay would not be "that significant" in terms of farmers' re-stocking operations.

While the prime minister would continue to commit all available resources to overcoming the disease, it was essential that they were used efficiently, the spokesman added.

"There is no point in spending money if you are not spending it in the most cost-effective way," he concluded.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it was possible items unrelated to cleansing were being included in the bill.

'Outcry'

He said: "The government is not required to pay for [secondary cleansing] but so far has been doing so.

"The basis on which the government pays for this is being reviewed for a number of reasons.

"It does not prevent farmers carrying out this work at their own expense."

Clean up at infected farm
Farms have to be scrupulously disinfected
But the NFU's Staffordshire Spokesman, Alan Edwards, added that if the cost was passed onto farmers there would be an "almighty outcry".

The Countryside Alliance also warned any significant delay could "spell disaster" for many small livestock farmers "already on the edge".

The Chief Executive, Richard Burge, said: "The plight of our farmers is too great to allow any long hiatus in this urgent clean-up merely for a review of costs to be undertaken.

"If the government itself unnecessarily holds up giving such farms a clean bill of health it will be presiding over the needless disappearance of many of the mixed and small farming businesses whose future it says it wants to encourage and promote."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"Nearly 2,000 farms have been cleaned so far"
The BBC's Michael Buchanan reports
on who is actually making money out of foot-and-mouth
See also:

23 Jul 01 | Wales
Concerns at disease ash removal
26 Jun 01 | Wales
Vets test for virus on Beacons
22 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Foot-and-mouth: A moving target
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