NFU to mount legal fight over foot-and-mouth payouts

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The National Farmers' Union may take legal action against the Government on behalf of members who missed out on the compensation scheme for livestock culled because of foot-and-mouth.

The National Farmers' Union may take legal action against the Government on behalf of members who missed out on the compensation scheme for livestock culled because of foot-and-mouth.

The NFU says that at least 150 farmers – whose animals were culled in February and March in the early stages of the epidemic – now face ruin because they received far less than the "generous payments" offered by the Government's standard scheme, which came into effect at the end of March.

Early in the crisis, farmers had their animals valued at current market rates. However, after the Government introduced its compensation rates, the value of animals soared. Early on, farmers received about £700 for a breeding cow, but months later this rose to £1,400.

Elliott Morley, the Animal Welfare minister, has refused to give more cash to farmers compensated before the new payment scheme became effective.

A Whitehall source said: "In the current climate, it is not likely that farmers will be paid any more in compensation."

But the NFU says farmers hit by foot-and-mouth early in the epidemic are at a huge financial disadvantage because they will be unable to afford to buy new animals to restock.

An NFU source said: "Defra [the Department for Environment, Farms and Rural Affairs] confirmed the Government had considered giving top-ups but has decided not to. We will be taking legal advice because these farmers have been compensated at a lower level."

The Government has admitted the compensation values it introduced on 22 March were "generous" to soften the blow for farmers. The inflation in compensation payments is one issue to be investigated by the National Audit Office, which will probe allegations that farmers and valuers colluded artificially to inflate payments.

A total of £930m has been paid to 6,000 farmers since the start of the epidemic, an average of £155,000 per claimant.

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