Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 16:58 UK

Foot-and-mouth cash demand fails

A foot-and-mouth sign
The 2007 outbreak of foot-and-mouth brought livestock travel restrictions

A damages claim by farmers affected by cattle movement restrictions after the 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak has been rejected by the High Court.

A judge ruled the claim had "no real prospect of success" and should not go forward to a full hearing.

The action was brought by seven farmers with land in Surrey, Kent, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Wales - none of whose cattle were culled in the outbreak.

They claimed livestock travel restrictions caused them heavy losses.

The restrictions were put in place to control the outbreak of the disease.

The farmers sued the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health Ltd, operators of the Pirbright laboratory, and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which licensed and regulated the facility.

The farmers said the defendants were "seriously culpable".

But Mr Justice Tugendhat held that the claimants had no real chance of establishing that the defendants owed them a legal duty of care, in respect of the indirect economic loss they claimed to have suffered.

Claims settled

The foot-and-mouth virus is alleged to have leaked out of drains at the Pirbright site and infected premises in the nearby area.

The government imposed measures preventing the disease from being spread, including nationwide restrictions on movement of livestock, as soon as the outbreak was discovered.

IAH and Merial settled the claims of seven claimants, who had farms adjacent to or nearby the site and whose livestock was slaughtered, but did so without admitting liability.

However, the defendants resisted claims by the other seven claimants, who did not lose livestock through slaughter, but alleged they suffered loss through complying with government measures.

Meanwhile, farmers' leaders have hit out at government plans to make them pay a levy towards the cost of dealing with animal diseases such as foot and mouth.

It cost the taxpayer £44m last year to prevent and prepare for outbreaks and ministers say it is "right" that farmers contribute.

But National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said the plans, which would see the industry pay half of the bill, were "outrageous".

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