Local farmers facing "double whammy" of Foot & Mouth and Bluetongue
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has warned that West Sussex farmers are facing a “double whammy” of restrictions following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth and Bluetongue diseases in neighbouring counties.
Mr Herbert spoke out after he met with a group of West Sussex farmers to discuss the continuing fallout from the crises.
The meeting on Saturday was organised by Arundel farmers and livestock traders Arthur and Anne Harriott.
Farmers have been hit hard by severe restrictions on the movement and export of livestock following the outbreak of the diseases. Local producers say that the value of their livestock has dropped by about a third since last year.
Foot and Mouth broke out in August when, according to an independent report, the virus was released from a Government-run facility in Pirbright due to a lapse in biosecurity.
The Government signalled the all-clear in September, but just a few days later a new outbreak was confirmed on another Surrey farm, 30 miles away from the original location.
On Monday this week a new EU Commission ruling on Foot and Mouth came into force which allows farmers in much of the country to export their produce. But West Sussex remains in a "No Export" area, which means that farmers remain unable to sell their produce to the rest of the EU, and the movement of animals is restricted.
South Stoke farmer Ryan Haydon said: "The movement restrictions which came into force this week represent a backwards step in terms of the scaling down of control zones, following the last foot and mouth outbreak of six weeks ago.
"The EU decision to prevent the movement of livestock out of the new 150km restricted export zone, unless to slaughter, is hard to comprehend, and urgent clarification is required as to how long these onerous restrictions will remain in place."
Lyminster farmer Caroline Harriott said: "Contrary to the impression given by recent Government announcements, Foot and Mouth restrictions are still in place in some areas of the South East, causing serious upheaval and devaluing our quality product. Those responsible for the Pirbright debacle should be held accountable and compensation paid accordingly."
Nick Herbert has taken up the concerns raised by local farmers by writing to Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, seeking clarification on the new restrictions and Defra's plan for eventually lifting them.
Mr Herbert said: "Farmers understand better than anyone else the need for restrictions to stamp out Foot and Mouth disease and Bluetongue. We all recognise the damage these diseases cause and the need to protect our farming industry.
"But West Sussex farmers continue to face onerous restrictions, and they would like to know whether the Government has a clear plan for the organised lifting of them."
Mr Herbert has also raised questions about the Bluetongue boundary zones which were established after the first outbreak of Bluetongue disease on a farm near Ipswich late in September.
The most restrictive ‘protection zone' now encompasses much of South-East England and includes farms in the county of East Sussex and the Mid Sussex District. Animals such as cattle, sheep and deer cannot be exported or moved from this zone (unless to licensed abattoirs).
In the wider ‘surveillance zone', which currently includes most of West Sussex, farmers are unable to move animals to the West Country, Wales, Scotland and EU countries.
The MP said: "Travelling from Cowfold in a straight line towards the east, you first leave the Bluetongue surveillance zone and go into the protection zone, then you go back into the surveillance zone, then you go into the protection zone again. I appreciate that district boundaries have been followed, but do the midges which spread bluetongue know them?"
Mr Herbert added: "We must remember that farming is incredibly important to the countryside. West Sussex livestock farmers are going through difficult times now, and it grates on them that the impression is being created that everything is returning to normal, when it isn't.
"No-one can be blamed for the outbreak of Bluetongue disease, but farmers rightly want to hold the Government to account for the leak of Foot and Mouth from their own laboratory."
Notes for Editors
1. For Defra's website and details of the disease restrictions, including maps of the various control zones, visit http://www.defra.gov.uk/.