Farmers' BSE despair

Agriculture industry leaders are to set up a full-time counselling service to cope with of the rising number of farmers being driven to despair by the BSE crisis.

The service, which will involve the Samaritans, is to be set up as soon as possible and could cost more than pounds 100,000.

Farming has traditionally been a high-risk industry in terms of suicide, largely because of the isolation farmers often work in.

But industry leaders say the number of farmers crying out for help has increased dramatically since the EU ban on British beef was imposed earlier this year.

For several years, the Royal Agricultural Society of England, in conjunction with the Samaritans and the National Farmers' Union, has provided help to farmers suffering from stress. But the society's chief executive, Charles Runge, said yesterday that the problems being posed by the continuing BSE crisis had made officials realise that a full-time service was needed.

Hundreds more farmers had been seeking help during the past few months.

"There has always been a problem, but because of BSE it has come roaring to a head," Mr Runge said.

"There will be more people taking their own lives as a result of BSE than there will be people dying from eating beef."

Mr Runge added: "A lot of people who have contacted me are not so much angry as bloody frightened.

"They see their livelihoods being taken away from them for reasons they don't understand."