Some British farmers accused of FMD fraud


The head of a rural affairs agency that advises the British government called today for light to be shed on new accusations of fraud against some farmers whose livestock have foot and mouth disease.

The English Independent on Sundaynewspaper claimed to have discovered a secret market where infected sheep were sold to famers who wanted to infect their own herds in order to receive compensation for the animals' slaughter.

"If there are allegations of this kind, I think it is very important that they should be investigated," Richard Wakeford, chief executive of the Countryside Agency, told BBCtelevision.

The newspaper was referring to Nuala Preston, a farmer from Pembrokeshire, in southwest Wales, who said she was offered an animal infected with foot and mouth for £2,000 (€3,120).

The British Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said rumours of this kind of activity have been circulating for a while but this is "the very first time that anyone has come forward."

Farmers could receive up to £90 in compensation for an infected sheep that would have been worth around £10 pounds before the crisis began in February.

The paper also claimed to have obtained a copy of a leaked environment ministry document showing that farmers are charging Defra excessive prices to hire clean-up equipment. "A farmer could, for example, buy a pressure washer for £700 and then rent it out to ministry workers for disinfecting farms at £800 a month," the newspaper said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week ordered a temporary stop to disinfection programs because of the exorbitant cost, pending an environment ministry evaluation.