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The NFU described today's update on the control of foot and mouth by the Agriculture Minister as positive but has hit out at the decision to cut compensation to farmers forced to slaughter their animals on welfare grounds.

NFU President Ben Gill said: "The decision to further cut compensation rates will come as a further devastating blow to farmers trying to ride out the foot and mouth crisis."

Ben Gill said many farmers with animals already entered into the scheme would suffer because of the sudden change in rate of their animals while a significant backlog of animals remain.

He added: "I am also concerned that the rates for sows and hoggets are being based on prices for the few animals still going into the domestic market. Their true worth is determined by export demand that is now cut off.

"I will be seeking urgent talks with the Minister to see if a fairer basis can be worked out."

Welcoming the changes to the contiguous cull announced by the Minister during his FMD update in the Commons, Ben Gill said that the NFU's overriding priority remained the eradication of the disease, but the change followed representations made by the NFU.

He said: "It had become increasingly clear that a blanket culling policy of all livestock on contiguous farms could be modified in the light of the evolution of the disease.

"As a result of this we discussed modified arrangements with Government scientists and the British Cattle Veterinary Association last week which led to discussions within the Government Veterinary Service last Friday.

"The latest joint advice from the country's chief scientist and chief vet is that the culling policy can be adjusted to permit individual farm bio-diversity risk assessments on all contiguous farms. Should the risk be low then the cattle should live but this must be backed by strict on-farm monitoring."

Cattle farmers will have to demonstrate good biosecurity and their animals will be checked regularly by vets.

Ben Gill added: "The management and monitoring of cattle left alive on contiguous farms must be extremely strict. Otherwise, we face the prospect of sparing some cattle at the expense of more future losses.

"Farmers will need to give their full co-operation to local vets on this."

Because of the high risk of sheep and pigs passing on the infection the cull of sheep and pigs within 48 hours on contiguous farms will continue.

The NFU also welcomed the Minister's decision to extend the consultation on the movement of animals for a further month in response to a request from the NFU.

Ben Gill also welcomed Nick Brown's announcement that he will shortly outline controls that might be taken to protect the industry from possible infection from imported produce.

He said the NFU would also work with Government to prepare a recovery programme for Britain's livestock industry.

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