Farmers' pay-out scandal

Feb 19 2002 By Andrew Forgrave Rural Affairs Editor, Daily Post

MORE than a third of Welsh farmers caught up in the foot-and-mouth crisis are still battling over compensation payments for culled stock, an exclusive Daily Post survey has revealed.

Twelve months after the disease first struck Britain, angry Welsh producers have accused the Government of dragging its feet.

Farmers say they cannot properly plan for the future while they remain in dispute with rural ministry Defra, often over claims involving tens of thousands of pounds.

Anglesey dairy farmer Alun Roberts, who is battling to retain a disputed £50,000 over-payment, is meeting his solicitor today and will fire off a counter-claim for a similar amount.

Last month, he travelled to St James's Palace where he met Prince Charles who, according to Mr Roberts, has asked to be kept informed of his legal challenge.

And Anglesey sheep producer Jeff Hughes said his appeal has now been taken up by the National Farmers' Union.

He said: "Defra seems to be kicking its heels, perhaps hoping that if they delay the process we will all go away. It makes me angry because the ministry should have brought in standard valuations at the beginning of the outbreak."

On the anniversary of the first foot-and-mouth outbreak, at the Cheale Meats abattoir, Essex, on February 19, the Daily Post today publishes the most comprehensive survey of Welsh farmers who lost stock to the disease.

The paper spoke to 44 of the 115 farmers listed on the National Assembly's foot-and-mouth register.

The results offer a glimpse into the crisis of confidence in the industry.

Nine out of 10 producers in Wales say last year's outbreak was bungled by the Government and should have been examined by a full public inquiry.

Around 40pc were unhappy with the on-farm dealings of rural ministry Defra, a third suspect their animals never had the disease and a quarter have not yet restocked.

One in 10 farmers say they have - or will - quit the industry for good. The survey shows 38pc are still in dispute over compensation pay-outs, including claims culled stock and damage to farm buildings by disinfection teams.

Many centre on the difference between Standard Valuations, introduced by Defra on March 22, 2001, and previous assessments by independent valuers, which were often lower.

President of the Farmers' Union of Wales, Bob Parry, said: "This is just typical of Defra. It illustrates why we need to devolve agricultural powers to the National Assembly - not only would fewer animals have been slaughtered, any disputes could have been sorted out earlier."

Defra was last night unable to confirm the number of compensation appeals.