More checks would just add to the misery

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Trebor Roberts is still living with the sheep scares of the 1980s. For 15 years, his sheep have been classed as "radioactive" because the 1,000 acres he farms near Dolgellau, North Wales, fell within the ambit of acid-rain fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Before any of the lambs currently being delivered at his farm can be taken to market he has to call in officials from the Welsh Office's agriculture department to check them for radioactivity readings. "There'll be three readings for each. That's half a minute each for 100 lambs at a time," he said.

When the spinal columns of older sheep were listed "specific risk material" (SRM) and removed from the food chain amid the BSE crisis, the ewe trade with France was devastated and Mr Roberts' prices plummeted.

"Ewes which fetched £25 or £30 were suddenly selling for £1," he said. The refusal by some ferry operators to transport live sheep has since added more costly complications to his business.

A wider sheep offal ban would be "disastrous", he said. "There are already all kinds of restrictions at the present time without adding to things. No link has been established between BSE in sheep and cattle."

The timing of any wider ban, if introduced, would be miserable Mr Roberts.

For the first time since the Chernobyl disaster, none of his lambs were born deformed and the market is also picking up. The £24 he was getting at the back end of last year represented an improvement, (though it compares with about £34 a year earlier, when the sheep industry was said to be in its worst crisis in living memory).

Some North Wales sheep farmers have been so desperate to part with their flocks that they have given away cull ewes.

Mr Roberts, 65, remains grateful for anything he can get, including the £1.30 farmers get for rounding up each sheep and preparing them for each radioactivity test.

"It's the same price I was getting in 1986 - the one thing in these times which has stayed the same," he said. "Sometimes I don't know where I would have been without it."

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