Foot and mouth relief for farmers

East Anglia's farmers and abattoir operators breathed a sign of relief as the government lifted the livestock movement ban at midnight on all animals after five days of disruption to the meat industry.

East Anglia's farmers and abattoir operators breathed a sign of relief as the government lifted the livestock movement ban at midnight on all animals after five days of disruption to the meat industry.

The decision by Defra's chief veterinary officer, Debby Reynolds, to allow animals to go for slaughter today was warmly welcomed last night by all sides of the industry.

It will ease growing welfare problems and overcrowding in the region's £175m pig industry and maintain supplies of home-reared meat in the country's supermarkets and butchers' shops.

Farmers and abattoir owners across the region welcomed the news last night and said they were ready to start working again this morning.

Adrian Dowling, of Bowes of Norfolk, which is one of the country's largest pig abattoirs and processes more than 10,000 pigs a week. “It is excellent news. I'm thrilled to bits.”

The Watton-based firm, which employs 700, had to stand down about 40 staff employed on the slaughter lines from Monday. “We were ready to roll from midnight,” said managing director Mr Dowling.

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Hundreds of workers in the haulage sector and the meat industry have been idle since last weekend when Defra introduced a nationwide standstill on livestock movements to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease from two Surrey farms.

The move came despite livestock on a third farm adjacent to one of the previously infected premises being culled on suspicion of foot and mouth.

A combination of cows, sheep, pigs and goats belonging to Hunts Hill Farm at the village of Normandy, Surrey, are to be destroyed.

A nearby resident said the farm was a "small family concern" who sell their products at a local farmers' market.

Dr Reynolds also confirmed that the strain of virus found on the second farm was the same as that discovered on the first.

The relaxation of movement restrictions follows similar moves by the Welsh and Scottish governments.

She said only abattoirs which met stringent biosecurity conditions would be permitted to accept livestock for slaughter.

Asked if she believed the situation was now under control, Dr Reynolds said that it was still "very early”.

"We have got two infected premises and a new premise that has been culled on suspicion.

"The risk of spread outside is low but not negligible,” she said.

National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said: "This is a measured and very necessary first step on the road towards getting the industry back to normal and maintaining supplies of home-produced meat to consumers, but it should not be taken in any way as a signal that we can afford to drop our guard.

"It is as vital as ever that livestock farmers remain vigilant, check their stock regularly and report anything suspicious immediately.”

In West Norfolk, farmer John Cross, chairman of the English Beef and Lamb Executive, who farms at Sedgeford, said: “This will come as a great relief to farmers and the beef and lamb supply chain, which can now turn its attention to the task of resuming normal trading conditions.”

Ian Campbell, the East Anglian regional manager of the National Pig Association, said: “It is up to the plant operators to get things moving as quickly as possible, lorries, licences and everything else within our area. It should all be fairly straightforward.”

Butcher Sam Papworth, who has four shops across north Norfolk, will be slaughtering livestock today in order to maintain supplies to his customers. He normally kills about eight cattle, 35 lambs and 18 pigs at his Fakenham abattoir each week.

“I'm going to do beef and lamb because I've got enough pork for the week. Fingers crossed, we'll kill pigs on Monday,” he added.

Farmer Jimmy Butler, who supplies about 100 butchers with his Blythburgh free range pork, is sending a third of his normal weekly production to Blakes of Felthorpe, near Norwich.

He has 250 finished pigs going to the abattoir early tomorrow. “This is terrific news because we were starting to get in a muddle,” added Mr Butler.

South Norfolk livestock haulier Ronnie Hume, of Palgrave, near Diss, and his 10-strong team of drivers started collecting pigs from farms early today.

Farmers' leader Peter Kendall, said: “This is a measured and very necessary first step on the road towards getting the industry back to normal and maintaining supplies of home-produced meat to consumers.

“It is as vital as ever that livestock farmers remain vigilant, check their stock regularly and report anything suspicious immediately. The highest possible standards of bio-security must be maintained, said the president of the National Farmers' Union.

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