Farmers face ruin from disease charge

Farming leaders in East Anglia have warned that many farmers could lose their livelihoods if the government makes them pay towards tackling animal diseases.

Farming leaders in East Anglia have warned that many farmers could lose their livelihoods if the government makes them pay towards tackling animal diseases.

The stark message was issued today as Defra confirmed that it had completed the cull of 28,600 birds in Norfolk and Suffolk to prevent the spread of the highly contagious H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The outbreak of the virus at Park Farm in Redgrave last Monday was the latest disease to hit the region in a year that has seen agriculture ravished by bird flu, Bluetongue and Foot and Mouth Disease.

Tests are continuing on the slaughtered poultry from four other farms that had “dangerous contact” with Park Farm but no other traces of bird flu have yet been detected.

Speaking today environment secretary Hilary Benn signalled that farmers could be asked to cover more of the financial burden of dealing with animal diseases.

He said the recent outbreaks in the UK highlighted the need to give the farming industry more of a say in dealing with such diseases.

Most Read

Animal infections are thought to be costing the public purse more than £120 million this year and a national newspaper has suggested a new levy on farmers could raise about £40 million.

But chairman of Suffolk National Farmers' Union John Collen said that agriculture, particularly livestock farmers, was still reeling from the effect of earlier crises and could ill afford any extra financial pressures.

He said that pig farmers had seen 90pc of their cull sow market wiped out by the export bans brought in during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in August.

He said: “We would be very badly off. There are some livestock farmers that are on a knife's edge already, it is that simple.

“We are talking about public health and that burden should not fall to an individual farmer.”

He said that UK farmers already struggled to compete against the financial head start enjoyed by their foreign counterparts, citing a scheme in France where the state paid for the recovery of dead animals in areas affected by Bluetongue, in contrast to the farmer funded system in the UK.

Chairman of Norfolk NFU Bob Young agreed that the government would have to judge any system very carefully to avoid pushing farmers out of business by introducing too many financial burdens.

He said: “It is a particularly difficult balance, particularly with the livestock industry losing money hand over foot and the cost of dealing with these latest diseases.

“It is a drip, drip, drip effect that is going to mean if we are not very careful that there will be very few animals produced in this country.”

Both men welcomed the completion of the bird flu cull and the negative test results at other farms so far but said the industry would still be on a full alert until all the farms being tested were given the all clear.

A ban on shooting within 500m of buildings occupied by commercial free-range poultry within the 3km protection and 10km surveillance zones is still in place.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter