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Thousands more farmers than first feared will be hit by the Government's "diabolical" decision to halt the final stage of cleansing and disinfection of farms hit by foot and mouth, the NFU has learned.

In a contradiction to stated policy yesterday, DEFRA has now instructed its regional staff to stop all second stage cleansing and disinfection (C & D), including that which has already been started, not just new operations.

This means that as many as 5,800 farms where C & D work was in progress or about to commence are now effectively in limbo.

Not only will this leave thousands more farmers with no hope of beginning to pick up the pieces of their businesses, it will also delay the possible autumn movement of animals being pressed for by the NFU to ease pressure on over-stocked farms.

The halting of C & D - important in controlling the spread of the disease - also sends a contradictory message to farmers who are battling to keep up months of tough disease control measures.

NFU President Ben Gill said: "We thought the situation was bad enough yesterday when we understood all new work was being suspended but this is quite shambolic.

"Thousands of farmers who are halfway through the clean up process will not be able to believe their ears when they are told it will have to stop. To halt work in mid flow does not seem to make any financial sense either.

"It is quite right to want to review the costs being paid to contractors and the scope of the work necessary to eradicate foot and mouth.

"But to halt all operations while this takes place is a disgrace. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I am meeting Lord Whitty tonight to press in the strongest terms for this decision to be reversed."

An instruction sent out to DEFRA Regional Operations Directors and Divisional Veterinary Managers last night said no further final cleansing and disinfection work should start or continue until further notice.

Yesterday DEFRA had said it was only the start of secondary cleansing and disinfection which was being halted in order for a review of costs to be carried out.

So far only 1,685 farms have had both preliminary and final cleansing and disinfection processes completed, enabling them to think about re-stocking.

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