Farmers accused over disease restriction

Four Norfolk farmers are being investigated for alleged breaches of the foot-and-mouth disease movement ban amid growing concern that the restrictions are putting animal welfare in jeopardy.

Four Norfolk farmers are being investigated for alleged breaches of the foot-and-mouth disease movement ban amid growing concern that the restrictions are putting animal welfare in jeopardy.

One of the four farms investigated by Trading Standards officials was Home Farm in Weeting, near Thetford.

Farmer Thomas Childerhouse last night told the EDP said he had misunderstood the rules regarding movements with a farm and not set out to deliberately flout the law.

Current restrictions only allow animals to be moved under licence for slaughter or the collection of dead carcasses.

But Mr Childerhouse, husband of Norfolk Primary Care Trust chairman Sheila Childerhouse, moved about 135 sows on Wednesday.

The following day he was visited by two Trading Standards officials, who told him he had breached the ban.

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“It wasn't the case that I was desperate and defied the law,” he said. “This was an internal movement from one field to another which happened to cross the road. I was crossing the public highway which I always have done, without having a licence, it didn't dawn on me that I would need one. I was informed I should have done and I stand corrected.

“If I had known, I wouldn't have done it,” he added. “Trading Standards informed me I was breaking the law and I hold my hands up. The law is the law and I will see what comes of it.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced that tests on calves at Manor Farm in Wotton, near Dorking, Surrey, had proved negative and the temporary 3km control zone set up around it had been lifted.

A Defra spokesman added that no further suspected cases of the disease had been reported.

But he continued: “Science and previous experience tell us that we have a considerable way to go before we know we're out of the woods and there's a need for relentless vigilance. This is still day nine of the current outbreak and the effort to eradicate the disease remains our priority.”

Bronwen Fox from Norfolk Trading Standards said lawyers would consider the breaches and penalties could range from an official caution to a fine.

“There are four on-going investigations,” she said. “They are not related to the same person and they occurred throughout the week. “We are looking to see if there's evidence that animals have been moved. We would look to conclude our investigations as quickly as possible and are trying to restrict contact with the animals. Officers will talk to the farmers and look at their records. We will also need to establish what vehicle was involved, and whether we can identify the person who was driving.”

But she denied that farmers would have been confused

“I don't think there is any room for confusion,” she added. “There has been an enormous amount of publicity and farmers have been given as much information as possible. The restrictions that were lifted were very specific.

Rachel Carrington, senior policy advisor at the East Anglia NFU, said it was vital farmers stuck to the rules. But she admitted that concerns were rising about animal welfare.

“We cannot support people who are moving their animals illegally,” she said. “We are working very closely with Defra to see whether we can unravel licences to get movements freed up. Obviously we need to balance this with the need for bio-security.”

And she urged farmers concerned about their animals to seek advice before moving livestock.

“If people have got problems and they need to move an animal but there is no licence for it, we would rather here from them so that we can talk to Defra,” she added. “We are hoping to start seeing more flexibility in the next few days in terms of allowing more of these welfare movements.

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