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The NFU met again this morning with the Prime Minister to discuss the evolving situation in the fight against foot and mouth.

After emerging from the meeting at Number 10 with other UK farm leaders, NFU President Ben Gill said: "While the disease continues to decline there is no room for complacency and there are serious front-line issues still to be tackled."

He said: "Today's update with Mr Blair demonstrates the significant strides that have been made since those dreadful early days when we were seeing more than 40 cases a day.

"But the fight remains grisly for farmers on the front-line, particularly in certain parts of the country where the revised contiguous cull, however hard, needs to continue."

He added: "It is vital that the combined efforts of farmers, the public and those involved in stamping out the disease on the ground continue so that we can halt this slaughter of animals at the earliest opportunity.

"After all the effort that has been put in and the hardship that has been caused we must not repeat the mistakes of the 1967 epidemic and must not be tempted to let down our guard prematurely."

Mr Gill told the Prime Minister that it would be of particular help if MAFF vets called farmers directly with up-to-the-minute advice on how they could best safeguard livestock.

He said: "I told Mr Blair that as greater movement of livestock is allowed it is even more important to stress the need to protect livestock from the potential risk of infection from outside sources.

"The NFU is doing what it can but I suggested a telephone call from a local vet would be time well spent."

Ben Gill also expressed farmers' disappointment and anger at the premature "over-night" cut in prices paid under the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme when so many farmers had been forced to commit their stock and many more were cut off from selling their animals into the food chain or had lost their export market entirely.

On this issue, he told Mr Blair it was important that urgent steps were made to open up routes to the domestic market for farms in areas around infected premises (Form D farms).

He said: "Looking further ahead, the Prime Minister accepted the need to press on with a recovery programme. We need to reconstruct a more market-orientated livestock industry. This will be a job not just for farmers - Government too will have a major role to play in both domestic and EU arenas.

"Reform of the CAP will be a crucial element of this to remove the barriers which currently prevent the achievement of better market returns.

"But we need more immediate changes. Business advice, an early retirement scheme and changes to the Hill Farming Allowance Scheme are areas where the Government can help farmers to adapt.

"The Prime Minister also stressed his commitment to help farming weather the inevitable difficulties that lie ahead as British livestock picks up its export role."

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