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Local NFU members met with the Government's Chief Veterinary Officer in Cumbria today to discuss how the extended cull needed to rein in the disastrous spread of foot and mouth can be targeted most effectively.

NFU representatives put forward a submission on how the grim slaughter could be carried out in a prioritised, strategic way, which may spare some pedigree high value stock without compromising disease control.

But the meeting heard how the disease is literally ripping through Cumbria, and that the brutal measures put forward by the Government may be the only hope of getting ahead of it.

In an emotional meeting, farmers hit home to Jim Scudamore their desperate fears about the impact of the 3km cull of sheep, pigs and goats.

They also graphically described how harrowing the delay in the slaughter and removal of animals has been for them in recent weeks and reiterated the NFU's call for more resources so the process can be dramatically speeded up.

NFU President Ben Gill said: "The NFU in London and Cumbria will be working on the proposals for a more sophisticated risk assessment put forward at this meeting urgently so that we can put them to the Agriculture Minister as soon as possible.

"That assessment will, of course, take account of the interests of all livestock farmers, wherever they farm, in eliminating foot and mouth.

"This issue will be the top of the agenda at my next meeting with Nick Brown."

He added: "No one is happy for these draconian measures to be taking place. But everyone agrees that disease prevention has to be the top priority - otherwise we will end up having to kill more animals in the long run."

The meeting also agreed to set up a local stakeholder group following calls from the NFU.

NFU Cumbria Council delegate Peter Allen said: "Our members hit home to the Chief Vet the gravity of the situation in Cumbria. Farmers are going out of their minds with worry about the extended 3km cull.

"We are pleased that Mr Scudamore has indicated that he will discuss with the Minister an exemption for high value flocks from the cull."

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