http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,173-449760,00.html
 
Farmers flouting foot-and-mouth controls risk fresh outbreak

FARMERS are deliberately flouting strict animal movement controls and risking the return of foot-and-mouth disease less than a year after the epidemic that cost the taxpayer £3 billion.

Many are refusing to comply with the law preventing them trading animals for 20 days if a new animal comes on to the farm, even though the standstill was introduced as the centrepiece of new controls to prevent another disease outbreak.

The Times has learnt that, rather than lose business, sheep farmers in particular are buying animals in “no-tax” cash deals then secretly moving animals at night to avoid detection. In a flagrant abuse a small number are even removing identity tags from animals to conceal their illicit trading. Such a practice, if it became widespread, would prevent government vets being able to trace suspect animals in any new disease emergency.

The law-breaking is extraordinary given that the large number of sheep movements was blamed for the spread of foot-and-mouth from the North of England to the rest of the country in last year’s outbreak. The scale of unlawful activity is confined to a minority of farmers, but many farmers have indicated that they are willing to take part in a campaign of disobedience. Industry figures are so worried about the possible collapse in disease defences that they have reported the abuse to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, alerted the Government to the illicit movements last week. He warned senior officials that sheep farmers cannot live with the controls and are being forced to operate outside the law. He is particularly concerned about reports of farmers who are damaging traceability by removing identification tags from animals.

He told civil servants one anecdote involving a farmer who agreed the sale of some sheep in a telephone call with another farmer. The buyer turned up to the seller’s farm late at night and collected the sheep when the vendor was asleep. The next day the vendor found a bag of ear-tags by his door and an envelope containing cash and a note reading: “The buggers won’t get me.”

Mr Thorley said: “It is important the Government knows what is going on. I think it could be widespread. I am party to a lot of anecdotal information and this is what I’m hearing.”

He is demanding a reduction of the 20-day standstill to five or six days because sheep sales and movements are at a peak during autumn, the only breeding period for sheep. He has warned the Government that farmers cannot keep unsold rams locked up but must be able to trade at market.

Farmers now appear ready to revolt. Nearly a thousand farmers turned up at Bakewell, Derbyshire, this week to discuss direct action. One plan is for all farmers to burn their animal movement licences at auction markets on November 1 and another is to stage a protest outside the London headquarters of the state veterinary service.

Penalties for lawbreakers are tough. For a first offence a farmer faces a fine of up to £10,000. A second offence carries a sentence of one month in jail.

A Defra spokesman confirmed that officials had heard of farmers breaking the law, but there was no evidence of widespread evasion. He said that ministers wished to make the 20-day standstill permanent by the end of next February. The Government was waiting for results of a risk assessment on the ban from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

 

Farmers defy 'silly' rules to curb animal disease

SHEEP farmers say that the pressure of living with unworkable animal movement controls is forcing them to defy the law and risk big fines, or even jail. They say they have no choice: they must trade or face financial ruin.

One sheep farmer in Mid-Wales admitted yesterday that this autumn he has moved animals illegally a number of times.

He is one of a growing number of farmers who are rebelling against strict disease controls, which prevent a farmer from trading animals for 20 days after new animals are brought on to a farm. The length of the quarantine is linked to the incubation period for foot-and-mouth disease and the control is in force to prevent a new outbreak.

The Welsh farmer said that at this time of year, which coincides with the breeding season, he could not comply with the law. He is a married father of three and has been farming for 25 years. Eighty per cent of his income comes from autumn breeding sales and he cannot afford to lose out.

He agreed to speak on condition that his identity was protected and to demonstrate that the movement ban is unworkable. He made clear that he has not been involved in the removal of tags from animals and believed such behaviour was irresponsible.

He said: “I am trading openly in markets and I am keeping all my records, but I have not yet reported these movements to officials, though we are supposed to do so after three days. I have heard of others who might be covering their tracks by fiddling their records.

“The whole system is close to collapse and ministers are trying to bury their heads in the sand. They have enough information to know it won’t work. Not everyone is breaking the law but it is fairly widespread. If disease was about, farmers would accept emergency measures, but there is no justification for this at present.

“I am not going to miss a sale because of four days. I have moved some animals after a week and others after 16 days.” He added: “Some of us are now prepared to be prosecuted to show the silliness of the rules.”

His views are shared by thousands of farmers. One North Wales farmer is trying to encourage his colleagues to rip up their movement licences at auctions across the Principality on November 1.

Farmers are so confused by the variety of rules and regulations on animal movements that some have broken the controls by accident. At a meeting of the National Farmers’ Union council in London last week, Les Armstrong, the union’s livestock committee chairman, disclosed that he had fallen foul of the rules. Mr Armstrong, who has 350 cattle at his farm in Kirkoswald, Cumbria, said yesterday: “I made a clean breast of my mistake with officials and have got away with it. It was so easy to forget. I bought three cattle one Sunday from a neighbouring farmer and put them in the fields.

“About a week later I was moving some young cattle. I did not even think about the three cattle and I am familiar with the rules. It just did not enter my head and then I realised what we’d done.

“There will be many people like that and there are others who have no option but to trade. These people aren’t criminals, they are people trying to get about their business. The Government must seriously look at this standstill. It is unworkable and ineffective. I told ministers before the summer that people would break the law and people would not comply.”

Peter Jinman, president of the British Veterinary Association, is aware of reports that farmers are breaking the law and has offered to broker a compromise.

He has suggested a new national disease alert system under which, if risk of disease were high, farmers would follow a 20-day standstill, but if risk were low a five or six-day period would be appropriate.


 
 
 
Farmers flouting foot-and-mouth controls risk fresh outbreak

FARMERS are deliberately flouting strict animal movement controls and risking the return of foot-and-mouth disease less than a year after the epidemic that cost the taxpayer £3 billion.

Many are refusing to comply with the law preventing them trading animals for 20 days if a new animal comes on to the farm, even though the standstill was introduced as the centrepiece of new controls to prevent another disease outbreak.

The Times has learnt that, rather than lose business, sheep farmers in particular are buying animals in “no-tax” cash deals then secretly moving animals at night to avoid detection. In a flagrant abuse a small number are even removing identity tags from animals to conceal their illicit trading. Such a practice, if it became widespread, would prevent government vets being able to trace suspect animals in any new disease emergency.

The law-breaking is extraordinary given that the large number of sheep movements was blamed for the spread of foot-and-mouth from the North of England to the rest of the country in last year’s outbreak. The scale of unlawful activity is confined to a minority of farmers, but many farmers have indicated that they are willing to take part in a campaign of disobedience. Industry figures are so worried about the possible collapse in disease defences that they have reported the abuse to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, alerted the Government to the illicit movements last week. He warned senior officials that sheep farmers cannot live with the controls and are being forced to operate outside the law. He is particularly concerned about reports of farmers who are damaging traceability by removing identification tags from animals.

He told civil servants one anecdote involving a farmer who agreed the sale of some sheep in a telephone call with another farmer. The buyer turned up to the seller’s farm late at night and collected the sheep when the vendor was asleep. The next day the vendor found a bag of ear-tags by his door and an envelope containing cash and a note reading: “The buggers won’t get me.”

Mr Thorley said: “It is important the Government knows what is going on. I think it could be widespread. I am party to a lot of anecdotal information and this is what I’m hearing.”

He is demanding a reduction of the 20-day standstill to five or six days because sheep sales and movements are at a peak during autumn, the only breeding period for sheep. He has warned the Government that farmers cannot keep unsold rams locked up but must be able to trade at market.

Farmers now appear ready to revolt. Nearly a thousand farmers turned up at Bakewell, Derbyshire, this week to discuss direct action. One plan is for all farmers to burn their animal movement licences at auction markets on November 1 and another is to stage a protest outside the London headquarters of the state veterinary service.

Penalties for lawbreakers are tough. For a first offence a farmer faces a fine of up to £10,000. A second offence carries a sentence of one month in jail.

A Defra spokesman confirmed that officials had heard of farmers breaking the law, but there was no evidence of widespread evasion. He said that ministers wished to make the 20-day standstill permanent by the end of next February. The Government was waiting for results of a risk assessment on the ban from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.