'You wonder if it would be better if your cattle had foot-and-mouth'

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The Independent Online

Peter Vasey's farm is surrounded by the empty fields of neighbours whose animals have been culled. Sometimes, he wonders if it would be better if his 130 pedigree cattle were among those slaughtered.

Mr Vasey, 54, has not been able to sell a single beast from his Charolais herd since February, reducing the income from his farm near Carlisle – in the heart of the crisis – to nothing.

In this confused world of foot-and-mouth slaughter and compensation claims, Mr Vasey has heard of fellow Cumbrian farmers who are receiving £1m-plus government payouts.

But the whispers offer little comfort to a farmer whose land has remained free of the foot-and-mouth plague but finds himself unable to move his animals or make a living because of the government-imposed "bio-safety" restrictions.

"There will be farmers out there whose herds were worth a lot of money and who deserve to be compensated for the loss of those animals," he said.

"But that is of little comfort. We cannot move the animals, put them in calf or sell them. We have no income. Like most in this position, you wonder if it would be better if your cattle had foot-and-mouth."

Mr Vasey is under no illusions about the devastating effects of the disease.

For 10 days in April , the carcasses of a neighbour's sheep flock lay slaughtered in a field adjoining his property. He lives in an area officially designated a foot-and-mouth "hot spot".

In defiance of scientific convention that animals being kept outside in an infected zone were more likely to catch the disease, Mr Vasey's Charolais herd grazing in his fields have escaped infection.

But the stringent movement restrictions imposed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs now mean that Mr Vasey cannot sell his animals more than six kilometres from his farm.

Further safety measures have been imposed and mean he cannot mate the herd to put the cows in calf for next year and start a recovery.

As a result, he is facing the complete loss of two years' business with only minimal support from the state.

Like many in the farming fraternity, he has heard stories about livestock owners who are desperate to get out of an unprofitable industry and are deliberately infecting their animals with foot-and-mouth.

Equally, he has been told of rumours that an infected sheep can be "hired" for £2,000.

But he says he is not interested. He said: "I know I have been very lucky to escape with a herd that has taken me 25 years to build. But, at the moment, the only thing keeping me going is pride."