People power foils the Ministry slaughtermen

Western Daily Press, April 23, 2001

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By Lucy Rodgers and Matt Childe
A countryside revolt was gaining momentum last night as small farmers put up barricades to keep out the foot-and-mouth slaughtermen.

The rebellion is centred on Gloucestershire where campaigners are working together to fight what they say is an unnecessary mass cull of healthy livestock.

Many of the protestors in Gloucestershire own sheep and cattle declared free of foot-and-mouth disease and others are guardians of some of Britain’s rare breeds.

Most support vaccination ahead of slaughter – in direct opposition to the National Farmers’ Union in the county, which yesterday gave their support for a continued cull.

Smallholder Pat Innocent won a reprieve for her 11 sheep and eight newborn lambs after about 30 supporters barricaded the gates to her land at Homestead Farm, Lydbrook, Forest of Dean, on Saturday to prevent MAFF slaughtermen killing her animals.

Hers was one of 35 farms in the area where animals were earmarked for slaughter. But Ms Innocent wanted to know if her animals were infected before she allowed them to be culled.

She said: “I have been in complete isolation for five weeks and the only visitors I have had in that time were two MAFF vets who came last Wednesday and said my flock was in good shape.

“If they have the disease, they will have to go but if they don’t I shall go on fighting.”

Members of the Christian community of Oaklands Park, at Newnham-on-Severn, continued to block the road leading to their organic farm yesterday.

The 116 residents vowed that they would not let slaughtermen near their 100 sheep, 60 cows and two pet goats.

They are backed by growing numbers of other small farmers who are in open revolt against Government policy.

MAFF officials said they were not prepared to confront protestors or attempt to breach barricades.

An official said: “In light of local resistance in and around the Forest of Dean this weekend, MAFF is considering a number of options with a view to resolving the situation.”

There have been no new cases of foot-and-mouth in the West since last Tuesday.

But a further 1,600 apparently healthy sheep on 35 Forest of Dean farms were being culled over the weekend.

Ministry veterinary surgeons say they want to check if the flocks are harbouring the disease to decide whether a wider cull is needed.

Farmers’ protests raise the spectre of stand-offs between the Army and landholders.

Gail Bennett and her husband Tim also forced a climbdown on a cull of their healthy cattle after barricading their farm at Rodley, near Gloucester.

Mrs Bennett claimed the local NFU did not represent the interests of smaller farmers.

“They only represent big business farms which export stock – I cannot understand their attitude at all.

“I have been for vaccination from the start and cannot see why we have to slaughter so many animals with a disease which is not even life-threatening.”

Other protestors met in Whitchurch, near Symonds Yat, and in Maisemore, near Gloucester, this weekend to collect signatures for a petition against the mass slaughter.

In the Forest of Dean, friends Siobhan Spivack and Carole Youngs have set up the Forest of Dean Foot-And-Mouth Action Group.

They have launched a “ring-a-round” system, calling on sympathisers to mobilise protests at threatened farms.

Both have no connection with farming but were so enraged by the Government’s slaughter policy that they felt they had to take action.

Meanwhile, the chairman and deputy chairman of the NFU in Gloucestershire, Peter Davidson-Smith and Henry Boughton, yesterday issued a statement to “Joanna Lumley and all our new farming friends out there”.

After a lengthy defence of the cull policy, it concluded: “Farmers realise that it is very difficult for others to look at the economic implications of the disease, and not solely the awful loss of life.

“However, underlying the beauty of our countryside and its future management is the hard fact that our livestock industry must have a future. That must me a future without foot-and-mouth disease.”