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Farmers accused of infecting their herds
BY TIM REID
FARMERS were last night accused by the Army of deliberately infecting their livestock with the foot-and-mouth virus to cash in on the emergency. Major Lucy Giles, part of the Army’s foot-and-mouth operation headquarters in Carlisle, told The Times: “We have been liaising with the police and they told us that there are concerns about this. They are investigating at least one farmer for intentionally infecting his animals. It is very disappointing.”
The claim, the first time that the Army has gone public about suspicions of intentional infection of livestock, follows a deterioration in relations between the military and some farmers in Cumbria.
A Ministry of Agriculture official supported Major Giles’s claim last night. She said that on Saturday another army officer, part of the 194-strong force deployed in the county to organise the slaughter and disposal of livestock, announced to a roomful of ministry officials: “We will win this fight as long as farmers do not intentionally infect their cattle, which we know they are doing.”
A Cumbria police spokesman said that he could not confirm Major Giles’s allegation. “We are not aware of any investigations but we have heard rumours.”
The allegation came amid a day of bitter recriminations over who is to blame for the epidemic and a claim by the National Farmers’ Union that farmers are being unfairly blamed for spreading the disease. It emerged yesterday that a spate of prosecutions and hundreds of inquiries have been launched across Britain involving allegedly fraudulent compensation claims and the “reckless and illegal” movement of livestock by farmers.
The announcement of the investigations, and the government claim on Monday that recklessness by farmers is responsible for a series of outbreaks in previously unaffected areas, provoked a furious response from the NFU.
Anthony Gibson, the union’s regional director for the South West, said that there was no justification for the Government to blame farmers, and that ministers were trying to create a smokescreen to “take the heat off themselves”. He added: “They have produced absolutely no evidence whatsoever.”Under the Government’s compensation scheme, farmers are paid the full, preoutbreak market value of slaughtered stock. A farmer who has 500 sheep culled, for example, would expect to receive about £35,000.
Infecting a herd, according to vets, would simply involve placing an infected animal in the same field.
Although ministers will not comment on the rumours of deliberate infection publicly, they have been warned privately about the possibility and have receiving daily briefings from trading standards officials.
In a separate development yesterday a report prepared for Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, by the Local Authorities’ Co-ordinating Body on Food and Trading Standards, the umbrella organisation for trading standards officials, revealed that since the start of the outbreak there have been 309 investigations or prosecutions of farmers. They have been accused of illegal livestock movements, the faking of movement licences and the failure to disinfect farm vehicles adequately.
Officers at West Mercia police, responsible for Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, announced an investigation into allegations of illegal movements of livestock and fraudulent claims for compensation.
Allegations of fraud are believed to centre on claims for the Sheep Annual Premium Scheme, a flat-rate payment made under the common agricultural policy whereby farmers are paid about £10 for every ewe they farm.
The more animals that are claimed for, the greater the payment, and some farmers are being investigated for the “bed and breakfasting” of livestock, the illegal practice of renting sheep from a dealer for a night in order to boost numbers artificially.
This has involved moving the animals on to their land in breach of strict non-movement edicts issued by the ministry. As 32 new outbreaks were confirmed by 6 o’clock last night, taking the total throughout the UK to 1,196, a farmer in Co Durham who has been accused by neighbours of illegally moving his livestock and infecting the area was forced to flee his home. Peter Fleming, of the Durham trading standards office, confirmed that allegations were being investigated “but they were no more than rumours at present”.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 10, 2001