Farmers forced into shooting own herds herds

Beef crisis: Ban on sales means producers cannot afford to keep cattle while a cheaper source of meat may gain popularity
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The Independent Online


The BSE crisis is forcing some farmers to cull their own herds because they cannot afford to keep feeding older cows while the Government organises widespread destruction and compensation programmes.

Meanwhile, British attempts to lift the global ban on British beef look certain to be rejected today when European veterinary experts meet in Brussels to assess the continuing crisis.

The culling of older cows began last week, after the sale of cows and beef cattle older than 30 months for beef was outlawed. This has left farmers who previously sold dairy cattle past milk-production as cheap beef with the cost of keeping the animals. On average, it costs pounds 30 a week to feed one dairy cow.

"I know of several dairy farmers who have been forced to have their cows shot, but it will spread across the country," said Philip Stephens, chairman of the National Farmers' Union Cornwall branch. "The Government has outlawed cow beef, but the instruments for the slaughter of these cows are not in place and there is no guarantee of compensation. What are farmers meant to do when it is costing them so much to feed them?"

The cows, also known as cull cattle, fetched about pounds 200 before the British beef scare, but were now virtually worthless.

A spokesman for the NFU's South-west region said the union had not heard of farmers shooting their own herds. The regional office, in Exeter, had been receiving up to 400 calls per day, however, many from anxious dairy farmers.

Callers had been asking what to do with their herds, because they were unable to get rid of them. Cull cattle had never formed a large part of a dairy farmer's income, but the loss of pounds 200 per cow might tip some farmers over the edge. "No one seems to be giving them any answers, least of all the politicians."

Beef farmers with older cattle have also been feeling the effects of the BSE scare.

Norman Morish, of Cheriton Bishop, Devon, said he had 25 prime beef cattle which would have been worth about pounds 24,000, but now they could not be sold because they were more than 30 months old. "We do not know what is going to happen. But we have got to hold on to them and feed them, and hope something comes up," he said.

Meanwhile, the pressure group Friends of the Earth claimed that water supplies for Norwich might be contaminated by material leaching from the headless carcasses of 100 BSE-infected cattle buried at a landfill site. The site is about half a mile from the River Wensum, which supplies water to the city.

But Anglian Water and the Environment Agency, which is responsible for water quality, insisted yesterday that there is no leaching from the site. "We have boreholes which are checked at least once a month," said an Environment Agency spokeswoman.

The European Union's standing veterinary committee, which meets in Brussels today. may decide to allow a slight relaxation of the ban on British beef by agreeing to remove certain beef-related products, such a gelatine, from the scope of the order, officials say.

However, sources in Brussels said it was far too early to consider any total lifting of the ban.