Union fury over Defra's suggestion of disease compensation scams

Jan 21 2004 Steve Dube, The Western Mail

FARMERS' Union of Wales president Gareth Vaughan has reacted angrily to an accusation by Defra that compensating for losses from notifiable diseases could increase the risk of spreading them.

"I am outraged that a Government official can make such a wild accusation," said Mr Vaughan. "I witnessed the anguish of many of my neighbouring farmers and their families and to suggest they were party to the deliberate spreading of the disease is a totally unwonted insult to them and to the integrity of the entire farming industry."

MPs were told that in some cases, compensation was seen by farmers as a fall-back, or even worse, an incentive to infect plant stock or livestock with the disease.

"In all my experience of farming such statements are without foundation. Farmers take a keen interest in livestock husbandry from their YFC days and to suggest they act in this manner indicates a lack of understanding of the industry," said Mr Vaughan.

The claim was made during a House of Commons public accounts committee investigation of Defra's Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate when MPs pledged to investigate anomalies in compensation.

Head of plant health Stephen Hunter was asked by Labour MP for Birkenhead Frank Field whether arable farmers should be offered compensation as an incentive to notify diseases such as ring rot.

Dr Hunter said many diseases were discovered be detection rather than by notification. "Indeed it may increase the risk of introducing a notifiable disease if the grower knows there is the fall-back of compensation."

Defra permanent secretary Sir Brian Bender said compensation was valid for diseases such as BSE, where there is a human health implication. But there are circumstances where it incentivises farmers to get the disease, such as we have seen recently during foot-and-mouth," he said.

PAC chairman and Conservative MP Edward Leigh pointed out anomalies mean livestock farmers are compensated, but not arable. Brecon farmer John Morgan, hit by potato ring rot, was an example."Mr Morgan's business is being destroyed, yet he did the right thing and co-operated fully," said Mr Leigh.