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Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Legal challenge to disease handling
People on farm.
Farming communities have suffered at all levels
The government is to be sued by a group of Welsh businessmen over its handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

The group is bringing its case under the Human Rights Act, claiming the decision to effectively close down the countryside has deprived them of their ability to make a living.

They accuse the government of failing to consider non-agricultural rural businesses in its efforts to protect the farming industry.

A London law firm is putting together their case.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, chairman of the Powys Rural Business Campaign Ian Mitchell said: "We have taken instructions from solicitors concerning issues affecting our members under the Human Rights Act and feel the government have discriminated against the businesses run by our members.

There is a series of bungles, incompetence and even indifference as far as we are concerned

Ian Mitchell, Powys Rural Business Campaign
"They have deprived them of their ability to use their property and make a living by their handling of the disease.

"They shut down the countryside without any thought of the consequences to the businesses involved deeply with the countryside.

"There is a series of bungles, incompetence and even indifference as far as we are concerned.

"We feel the whole business could have been dealt with in a far more satisfactory manner, particularly when you think of the consequences affecting the lives of families in Powys, in particular, and the UK as a whole."

Solicitors believe the Powys-based group, which represents 500 businesses, can sue the government for exceeding their powers by allegedly closing off roads and giving bad advice.

Farmers' protest

In the first three months of the outbreak, many of Mr Mitchell's members lost all of their business.

Although there have been no new cases for about a month, some firms are still struggling.

Turnover for other businesses is down 70% on normal levels.

News of the Welsh business group's legal case coincided with protest action in Gloucestershire on Saturday.

Horse riding school
Horse riding schools have lost business
Farmers marched on Shire Hall in Gloucester to demand a full inquiry into the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

They are unhappy with government imposed movement restrictions, which they claim are forcing them to slaughter animals which are ready for market.

During the demonstration, the Marquess of Worcester gave a defiant speech urging the government to change its global policy that she claims is killing Britain's small farmers.

The marquess, known fomerly as TV actress Tracey Ward, said: "Britain's small farmers are under the strangle hold of major supermarket chains, who buy in food from abroad rather than using the healthy produce grown on their doorstep."

Financial aid

She claimed 80% of government subsidies to aid foot-and-mouth recovery was going to 20% of the largest farmers as they were the only ones deemed capable of competing globally.

Devon pig farmer Hector Christie said: "Small farmers are being crushed beneath globally-centred economics and loaded legislation."

The government has earmarked an extra 15m to boost businesses hampered by foot-and-mouth disease.

The money will be split between five regional development agencies.

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