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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
'Virus for cash' scam investigated
The news comes as the UK government relaxes movement restrictions
Police and council officials in Pembrokeshire are investigating claims that farmers have been offered animals infected with the foot-and-mouth in return for cash.

The fraud involves the sale of diseased livestock to properties free of the disease - with the aim of infecting flocks of sheep and herds of cattle so owners can qualify for government compensation.

These people are the scum of the earth. They may purport to be farmers, but they are not farmers at all - they are just common criminals trying to make a fast buck

Tim Johns, Pembrokeshire NFU

Council officials in Pembrokeshire - which is free of foot-and-mouth - have been told that diseased sheep were offered to a local farmer for 2,000.

But they say that until someone actually comes forward and makes a formal complaint, they are powerless to act.

"These people are the scum of the earth," said Tim Johns, county chairman of the National Farmers Union.

"They may purport to be farmers, but they are not farmers at all - they are just common criminals trying to make a fast buck."

Mr Johns said the potential danger to the farming industry was enormous, because of the high proportion of dairy cattle in Pembrokeshire.

The county has the highest density of dairy cows in the UK.

'Devastating effect'

Of the 200,000 dairy cattle in west Wales - which makes up 10% of the UK's dairy herd - as many as 80,000 are in Pembrokeshire alone.

"They are in very concentrated pockets, so the disease could have an absolutely devastating effect once it got into the herd.

"Huge swathes of Pembrokeshire could be taken out."

County council officials are extremely concerned.

"We are treating this very seriously," said Nigel Watts, principal officer with Pembrokeshire County Council's public protection department.

Crisis in Wales
Total confirmed cases UK-wide 1,773 - with 92 in Wales
Powys - 58 cases
Anglesey - 13 cases
Monmouthshire - 16 cases
Caerphilly 1
Rhondda Cynon Taff - 1
Neath Port Talbot -1
Newport - 3

"What we are asking people to do is to provide us with evidence," he added.

"If there is sufficient evidence, those responsible will be prosecuted.

"There is no foot-and-mouth disease in the area and the farming unions, the tourist boards, and the local people have worked very hard to keep it like that.

"I would appeal for anybody with information to come forward and let us or the police know."

Meanwhile, the UK government has lifted some of the restrictions on the movement of livestock imposed during the foot-and-mouth crisis.

'Mistakes made'

From Friday licensed movement of all livestock from within infected areas is being permitted for slaughter at abattoirs outside infected areas.

Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State at the new Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, accepted that mistakes had been made and the battle to eradicate the virus had not yet been won.

She also told MPs about plans to lift local councils' blanket footpath closures in an effort to ensure the British countryside was largely open for business this summer.

And she confirmed the government would hold an inquiry once the outbreak was over - something the Conservatives said should be held in public.

Welfare grounds

Over half of all paths were now open but some remained closed where it was difficult to see why, said Mrs Beckett.

She explained the government was looking to revoke remaining blanket closures, although it would examine local representations.

Cattle and pigs, but not sheep, from outside infected areas will also be allowed to move under licence into provisionally free areas on welfare grounds.

Mrs Beckett said 37 infected areas had now had restrictions lifted, involving 43,000 farms - one third of all those affected.

"The objective remains to eradicate the disease as quickly as we can," she said.

See also:

19 Apr 01 | Northern Ireland
Surprise at NI livestock compensation
21 Jun 01 | UK
Inquiry into 'cruel' cull
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