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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Starving lambs to be slaughtered
Lambs
Lambs have been stranded due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak
Plans to slaughter and dispose of a quarter of a million lambs caught up in the foot-and-mouth crisis have been announced by the Scottish Government.

The so-called "light lambs" are usually sold to a specific European market but the outbreak in England meant they could not be moved.

The onset of winter and lack of grazing means the animals face starvation.

Farmers will be paid 15 to send each animal to an abattoir in an incentive scheme estimated to cost up to 6m.

The problem has come to the fore in Scotland ahead of the rest of the UK because of the colder climate and pasture on many hill farms now becoming thin.

The export markets for which the sheep are bred have been closed for most of the past two months and will only reopen on Friday.

'Facing starvation'

Light lambs are usually roasted whole in Europe but there is little demand in the UK.

Some carcasses will be used for biodiesel and the remainder will be incinerated.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said he had already received isolated reports of lambs dying and called on Westminster to cover the cost of the scheme.

"The foot-and-mouth crisis has left hundreds of thousands of sheep stranded on our hills facing starvation," he said.

There are already reports of livestock mortalities in these regions
Mike Flynn
SSPCA

"We cannot countenance the prospect of this continuing given the impact not only on the welfare of the animals but also on those farmers who would otherwise face watching their flocks starve to death."

He added that the moral and financial responsibility for this crisis lay with the UK Government.

"Action is needed now and we will provide funding on an emergency interim basis and seek to recover this from Defra in due course," Mr Lochhead said.

Charles Milne, chief veterinary officer for Scotland, said the scheme was essential to prevent a catastrophe of animal suffering on a large scale.

Animal welfare

"All animals entering the scheme would have been slaughtered and their meat exported," he said.

"However, with the lack of availability of this market we must ensure that welfare of these animals is not compromised."

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it opposed the culling of animals unless there was a clear animal health or welfare issue.

Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said, "There are already reports of livestock mortalities in these regions, and if the situation remains it will put these light lambs at severe risk of starving to death."

Richard Lochhead
Richard Lochhead called on Westminster to cover the costs

Jim McLaren, president of the National Farmers Union Scotland, said it was a "disgrace" that the UK Government had failed to pay for the scheme.

He described the announcement as another dark day during an "autumn from hell" for the livestock industry.

"We have reports coming in of lambs dying already because the grass is gone and the weather is closing in," he said.

"The condition of tens of thousands of lambs that are still on farms is rapidly deteriorating because of the lack of feed and, worse still, they are eating the grass that ewes rely on over the winter.

"If our breeding flock suffers losses over the winter, the consequences for the long-term future of the Scottish sheep industry don't bear thinking about."

'Verging on disaster'

Farmer Alan Young, from Tomatin in the Highlands, said: "These lambs are not going to be up to the market spec.

"We would have liked a bit more but I think the scheme will generally be welcomed by hill farmers who have these little lambs.

"It looks like the best deal we are going to get this year."

John McDonald, a farmer in Grantown-on-Spey, added: "At least it's compensation. There are areas in the high ground where there's no ground to keep these lambs.

"It's verging on a disaster."

Tory rural affairs and environment spokesman John Scott welcomed the scheme and backed the SNP administration in seeking compensation from Defra.

"It's better late than never," he said.

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