Farmers get emergency aid package of pounds 150m

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AN EMERGENCY aid package of pounds 150m was announced last night for Britain's hard-pressed livestock farmers by the Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown.

The money, nearly twice the expected sum, will be split between continued higher grants for sheep farmers in the hills and the waiving of slaughterhouse inspection and "cattle passport" charges, introduced during the BSE crisis, which many farmers claimed would tip them into bankruptcy.

Mr Brown also said he would now like to abandon the beef-on-the-bone ban, but had to wait for agreement from his ministerial colleagues in the devolved assemblies in Wales and Scotland. He said he hoped the ban would be lifted across the UK by the end of the year.

The new funds come from the special provision set aside in the Ministry of Agriculture's budget for BSE emergencies, and which, if not drawn upon, automatically revert to the Treasury. Mr Brown said he had secured the deal after a "long, tough haggle" with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Alan Milburn.

He will have been helped by the Government's renewed nervousness about its relations with the rural community. Farmers are furious that their real-term incomes have fallen to what they claim is a 60-year low, and country sports enthusiasts are preparing to do battle over government plans for the abolition of fox-hunting.

Welcoming the package, Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said: "This package will relieve some of the symptoms of the present crisis. What is now urgent is to tackle the root cause - excessive bureaucratic and regulatory cost."

The NFU will reveal today the results of a wide-ranging "misery audit" it has conducted to find out the scale of problems that farmers are facing.