1.5 million British lambs to be destroyed

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1.5 million British lambs to be destroyed

Thursday, 2 August 2001 14:00 (ET)

1.5 million British lambs to be destroyed

LONDON, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- More than 1.5 million healthy lambs face destruction because British farmers cannot export them to markets abroad due to ongoing curbs on animals affected by Britain's foot-and-mouth epidemic, officials said Thursday.

The government decided to buy and dispose of the lambs in a bid to control escalating costs of the foot-and-mouth crisis, which is already estimated to exceed $1.5 billion.

Food Minister Lord John L. Whitty announced the planned cull to farmers at a National Farmers Union conference in Warwick, near Coventry, as government veterinarians began a slaughter of thousands of other animals suspected of carrying the foot-and-mouth disease virus.

Whitty sought to calm the public about the ultimate cost of the crisis to the taxpayer, saying the payoff to farmers for the young lambs would be a "one-off" payment and the last such burden to be borne by the general public.

The final financial toll of the latest cull has not been revealed but official and industry sources say the epidemic, which began in February, has already caused losses in excess of $1.5 billion.

The continuing cycle of destruction of farm animals revived questions about the efficacy of the culling policy, with critics calling on the government to reconsider its decision against mass vaccination of the animals. Nearly 4 million farm animals have been culled since February, and experts warn that millions may face destruction, bringing economic ruin to farmers and posing major health and environment risks.

The Times of London said ministers had agreed on a limited vaccination of animals around North Yorkshire if cases there persist and appear to be spreading to the main pig production area in East Yorkshire. Officials said that nothing definite had been decided.

The epidemic has also become mired in controversy over allegations, which are being investigated by the government, that some farmers deliberately infected their stock to join the queue for cash compensation. Government experts are investigating claims that some new outbreaks may be the result of fraud, after reports of offers of infected sheep and cattle, tails and ears for sale to disease-free farms to enable those farmers to claim cash compensation.

Farmers are entitled to claim up to $130 for a single ewe surrendered to authorities for slaughter as a suspected carrier of the epidemic. The compensation amount is double the value for a poor-quality animal. Government enquiries into illegal activities during the epidemic were stepped up after a Welsh farmer, Nuala Preston, revealed she had received a telephone offer to infect her animals for $3,000. -- Copyright 2001 by United Press International.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 02, 2001

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