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The Government announcement of a scheme to slaughter some of the animals trapped by the foot and mouth movement ban will be the most humane option for many farms - but will be an absolute last resort, says the NFU.

Farmers have become desperate over recent weeks about the welfare of cows and sheep - many about to give birth - stuck miles away from their original holding. A severe backlog of pigs - which should have been sent to other units by now - has also built up on farms.

Today's announcement of a voluntary scheme to cull such animals will prevent unnecessary suffering and help farmers who have had to cope not only with severe worry about their animals but also with the extra financial pressure of keeping them.

After a series of prolonged and detailed negotiations with the NFU, the Government has announced that it will pay compensation for those animals that are put forward for destruction.

NFU President Ben Gill, who agreed the principles of the scheme with the Prime Minister today, said: "Farmers care deeply for the welfare of their livestock. Knowing that a pregnant ewe is in a field miles away giving birth without your care is heart-breaking.

"In some cases farmers have been able to take advantage of the limited movement allowed but in other cases this has simply not been possible, for example, if a farm is in an infected area.

"The opening of this scheme will be the kindest option in many cases and will alleviate some of the pressure. But the destruction of healthy animals always sickens any farmer - this will be absolutely the last resort."

The scheme will be open to animals where a vet believes it is necessary for the animal's welfare. Farmers will be compensated according to a schedule of payments set out by MAFF and negotiated by the NFU.

Mr Gill added: "We have fought hard to get these compensation payments - there is no legislative burden on the Government to run this scheme. It has not been easy but we believe that the payments being offered will provide some recompense for the loss of the animal. We hope farmers who need it will make use of the scheme."

The NFU continues its discussions with Government about compensation for consequential losses for the industry.

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