Brown pledges help for pig farmers after 'worst two years in a century'

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The Government faced having to spend millions in compensation to the pig industry yesterday, after the Agriculture Minister Nick Brown vowed not to turn his back on farmers bound by the swine fever restrictions.

The Government faced having to spend millions in compensation to the pig industry yesterday, after the Agriculture Minister Nick Brown vowed not to turn his back on farmers bound by the swine fever restrictions.

Mr Brown said the Government and farmers would be "working together" and that he would do what he could to help the pig industry after its "worst two years in a century".

"The Government is aware how damaging this is for the pig industry. We know our responsibility," he said after a crisis meeting with industry officials.

He added that he was "thinking very hard" about how the Government could help farmers to uphold Britain's high standards of animal welfare. He stressed he would ensure Britain was "treated fairly" by other EU member states and that it was repaid for some of the compensation.

A ban on transporting pigs while government vets make tests was extended on Thursday to a total of 35 farms in England, when it was found that an outbreak of swine fever had spread rapidly from East Anglia. Days earlier, the European Commission imposed an EU-wide ban on the export of live pigs and pig semen.

The Conservatives warned that Mr Brown would have to deliver on his compensation promises immediately if he did not want the pig industry plunged into an even deeper crisis. Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman said: "Nick Brown should be talking to Brussels about the wider compensation issues. Unless he is hitting harder than he has done in the past in Europe, there is a danger that countries will take matters into their own hands and impose a much more damaging ban on British pork."

The Government's chief veterinary officer, Jim Scudamore, said there were "encouraging" signs that the outbreak of swine fever is not spreading.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) said it was hopeful the disease had been contained at farms in East Anglia. A spokesman said he was expecting to have a definite answer by Monday, for a meeting of the EU's Standing Veterinary Committee.

The Government is hoping the EU will be persuaded to reduce the scope of the export ban when the committee meets if reports show the disease has been contained.

Seven farms in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Sussex, the Isle of Wight and Dorset have been banned from transporting pigs while the laborious detection tests are done.

The other 28 farms are in East Anglia, where six units have been confirmed with classical swine fever and 12,000 pigs have been slaughtered. About 100 further farms with links to the infected sites have also been tested.

Of the 35 restricted farms, 19 have direct or indirect links with the initial source. A Maff insider said it would be worrying if swine fever was confirmed at farms with no links to the original breeding unit, making the disease much harder to trace.

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