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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Sheep virus 'scam' inquiry
Sheep grazing on common land in the Brecon Beacons
A diseased sheep carcass could infect healthy flocks
Government officials are continuing to investigate claims some farmers may be deliberately infecting their flocks with foot-and-mouth disease to qualify for compensation.

It follows allegations from a Welsh farmer who said she had been offered a diseased sheep in order to infect her flock and claim substantial government payments.

It is evil, causes stress and trauma for farmers and undermines the whole rural community

Glyn Powell, Farmers' Union of Wales
Nuala Preston from Pembrokeshire, west Wales, said she was 'horrified' to receive a telephone call from a farmer offering her an infected sheep carcass for 2,000.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said such allegations were taken very seriously - but officials had found no hard evidence so far.

Dyfed-Powys Police has also confirmed it is to investigate the claims.

A spokesman said: "We have contacted the farmer involved and we are now investigating the source of the phone call."

Parts of Wales have seen the disease spread recently and 4,000 sheep were slaughtered in the Brecon Beacons over the weekend as a precautionary measure.

Tests are being carried out on a further 6,000. Some results are expected on Monday while other are not due until later in the week.

In North Yorkshire, more than 50,000 are also undergoing testing.

Crisis in Wales
Total confirmed cases UK-wide 1,900 - with 112 in Wales
Powys - 72 cases
Anglesey - 13 cases
Monmouthshire - 20 cases
Caerphilly 2
Rhondda Cynon Taff - 1
Neath Port Talbot -1
Newport - 3
More than 2,500 will be affected by the plan, which is being carried out to stop the virus spreading to tens of thousands of pigs in the region.

As of Tuesday morning ministry officials will accompany milk tankers in the restricted area - and trading standards officers and police will enforce this on the ground.

The main concern regarding the continuing outbreak, which began in February, is how to explain how the disease had spread to previously uncontaiminated areas.

A Farmers' Union of Wales spokesman - who described the alleged compensation scam zs "evil" - said claims of diseased animal for sale might explain it.

But National Farmers' Union President Hugh Richards stressed that no evidence had been put forward to support such claims.

"The industry is in a desperate state and desperate people will do desperate things - but show me the evidence that people are at it," he said.

Blood sample being taken from sheep
A further 6,000 sheep will undergo tests for the disease
Miss Preston, 39, who keeps 45 ewes, 10 cattle and breeding ponies at Trefoel Farm near Nefyn, turned down the offer.

"I was so horrified I slammed the phone down," she said. "I was absolutely appalled that anyone should dream of doing that.

"But I think some farmers on the brink of desperation and bankruptcy might be tempted to go for it because at least they would get compensation for their animals."

Glyn Powell, deputy president of the Farmers' Union of Wales, said: "It is evil, causes stress and trauma for farmers and undermines the whole rural community.

"It may be an element of the inexplicable spread of the disease to unexplained quarters."

The illegal movement of infected animals flies in the face of the government's containment policy, which involves rapid cull of any infected animals and those exposed to the virus animals.

Mass slaughter

The Brecon Beacons in mid Wales saw a mass slaughter of 4,000 sheep on Saturday in an effort to stamp out the disease.

Traces of foot-and-mouth antibodies were found in flocks roaming the national park and farmers are awaiting more test results which could mean a cull for another 6,000 sheep.

Confirmation that more of the hefted flocks, which roam the hills and pass knowledge of their environment through the generations, would come as a further bitter blow to the agricultural economy.

Government compensation can fetch up to 90 while a disease-free sheep might go for around 10 far at current market value.

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Some are prepared to spread the disease for money"
See also:

25 Jul 01 | Wales
Disease hits Beacons flocks
25 Jun 01 | Wales
Vets try to trace Beacons virus
21 Mar 01 | UK
Rare breeds 'could be lost'
29 Jul 01 | Scotland
Scots farming leader attacks Blair
30 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Fines for foot-and-mouth breaches
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