Foot and mouth outbreak is "another body blow for British farmers"

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has described the recent confirmation of two cases of foot and mouth disease in Surrey as “another body blow for British farmers.”


The disease, which affects cloven-hoofed animals, with cattle, sheep and pigs particularly susceptible, has been confirmed on two farms near Guildford in the past week.

A 3 kilometre protection zone and a surveillance zone of 10 kilometres have been set up around the site of the first outbreak and the movement of livestock has been banned across the country.

Controls are also in place on the movement of animal carcasses.  Local farmers are concerned that they are still waiting for advice from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on this issue, which will become increasingly problematic as restrictions continue.

Animal gatherings, shearing and dipping are also restricted, with all farms expected to increase levels of biosecurity.

On Tuesday (7 August) the European Commission formalised a ban on British exports of meat, milk products and live animals.  The livestock export market alone is worth at least £500 million a year.

As the latest crisis to hit British farming takes hold, thousands of farmers are still struggling to recover from the Government's mishandling of the Single Farm Payment Scheme, which saw many farmers forced into record levels of debt as a result of the Government's failure to validate, process and send out Single Farm Payments on time.

It is also only six years since the last outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK which led to the slaughter of nearly seven million animals at a cost of up to £8 billion to the UK economy. 

The tourist industry, which is closely linked to farming in areas such as West Sussex, was also badly hit with widespread footpath closures and images of burning carcasses blighting the countryside and its appeal to visitors.

Mr Herbert, whose grandfather farmed Sussex cattle and sheep at Northiam in East Sussex, has been in touch with representatives of the local National Farmers' Union to keep up to date with their concerns.

Dairy farmers in West Sussex have already had a particularly hard time in recent years as a result of bovine TB and falling farmgate milk prices.  In 1997 there were 175 dairy farms in the county.  Today there are just 98.

Sheep and cattle are particularly important to the local farming economy and to the maintenance of the famous South Downs landscape. 

Nick Herbert commented: "This is another body blow for British farmers who have already faced very tough times in recent years.

"The outbreak is uncomfortably close to West Sussex farms, but however far away it is, the whole industry is affected.  Local livestock markets and abattoirs are at a standstill, fallen stock can't be collected, and exports are banned.

"There need to be the tightest controls within the exclusion zone, but elsewhere I think it's important that the countryside stays open for business.  Tourism is so important for West Sussex and for many farmers.

"We are all hoping for the sake of the farming industry that the disease will be contained and the restrictions will be lifted as soon as it is safe.  But there will still be serious questions to answer about what caused such a damaging outbreak."


Alexander Black