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ONE DEAD GOAT WOULD COST ME WHOLE HERD

A Devon goat farmer fears his livelihood is under threat because of the "draconian" way fallen stock are tested for a form of brain disease.

William Thompson Coon says that every time one of his goats dies, Government regulations mean his whole herd has to be culled.

Mr Thompson Coon, who milks a herd of 180 goats at his farm just outside Buckfastleigh, says his fears arise from the way the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) tests dead goats for scrapie, a form of brain disease.

At present, any goat that dies is taken away and tested for the disease. If it is found to have scrapie, Government regulations dictate the rest of the herd on the farm must automatically be destroyed.

Mr Thompson Coon insists the way the issue is dealt with is unfair and has the potential to destroy his business. He says MEP Neil Parish openly claims the disease is "not considered to be dangerous to humans or a risk to man" yet it is not being treated as such by Defra.

"Every time an animal dies or has to be shot on the farm, I am running the risk of having the whole lot killed.

"To ruin my business for an animal disease which is said to be of no danger to man is nonsensical. The punishment doesn't fit the crime."

Mr Thompson Coon runs the farm with his wife Sue, and has found a niche market for his milk with Ticklemore Cheese, in Totnes. The firm has developed a range of goats' cheeses out of milk from his pedigree animals. The business has proved a major success, but he says he cannot plan for the future because of the fear of a goat getting scrapie.

His plight has now been taken up by Totnes MP Anthony Steen, who has written to Defra through the department's Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter.

And Mr Parish, MEP for the South West and a Somerset farmer, has also vowed to take up the issue with the European Commission. He said the disease was "not contagious".

"You need to slaughter the goat that has the disease and incinerate it if necessary but not the whole herd. It seems to me a draconian measure," he said.

But until something is done to change the system, Mr Thompson Coon says the future of his farm is not in his hands.

He has put extra stringent controls in place restricting who can enter his farmland since the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. But he says this was ignored recently and a dirty lorry was driven on to his farm carrying a load of fallen animals, to collect a dead goat.

He claims more safeguards are in place for sheep which are found to have a brain disease, or cattle which have BSE, which remove the need for the whole herd on a farm to be culled. He now wants similar initiatives to be undertaken for goats.

A spokesman for Defra said the policy towards scrapie had been adopted because it had the potential to "mask" underlying BSE. Compensation would be paid to the farmer for the loss of animals. If there were concerns about vehicles entering land or the cleanliness of lorries, they should be raised with Defra, he said.

jkirk@westernmorningnews.co.uk