After the cull, the insult of a cleaning bill

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The Independent Online

At the gate of his farm in the Ribble Valley at Newham, near Clitheroe, Lancashire, where a deafening silence telegraphs the fact that his entire flock of 3,000 healthy sheep and lambs have been culled, Thomas Binns was musing over a final ignominy yesterday: being forced to pay out for the subsequent cleaning and disinfection of his premises.

There is an abysmal sense of timing, here, to the hint by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that a ceiling may be placed on the cost to the public purse of each clean-up, forcing farmers to find the rest. Mr Binns' Hecklin farm, underwent its regulation first cleaning – a misting of disinfectant that immediately follows each cull – and he had met the Defra case officer appointed to supervise the more thorough, second disinfection last Friday.

It may have been a day too late: Mr Blair's memo, ordering the the suspension of all secondary disinfections not started, was issued on Thursday. "It amazes me that they examine the costs after five months, when cleaning and disinfecting has been going on for four of them," Mr Binns said. "If they attempt to impose costs on me, there will be a legal challenge."

Around Clitheroe there is a rumour that ad hoc cost controls have already been imposed. It is said that disinfecters have abandoned the initial practice of digging up cracks in concrete floors (to remove possible infection) and knocking down wooden outhouses (which are more difficult to clean than modern concrete premises).

But John Swift, whose farm at Knutsford, Cheshire, will be disinfected by the end of the week , said the zeal of contractors had surprised him. "Even the potato shed, which hasn't even been touched by our infected cattle, has been doused. It's taken nine weeks. I thought it would be more like four. I'm not complaining though, the more you do to remove this, the less chance there is of it coming back."

Though Defra was laying blame at farmers' doors last night, contractors insist that the ministry's efforts have descended into chaos. Arnold Cope, managing director of Power Pac, a Shropshire-based cleansing firm, and a veteran of the 1967 outbreak, said there were fewer ministry officials to oversee operations, and those that there were had little experience of crises, contributing to inefficiencies.

His company charges £29,411 per farm and has disinfected 68 premises this year in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire.

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