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The scheme to slaughter animals trapped on or away from their farms by foot and mouth restrictions for welfare reasons is a vital measure and must be made to work properly, says the NFU.

But the massive volume of applications to the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme means that it is impossible to deal with them all immediately.

The NFU is calling for a system of prioritising cases to be set up, so that essential resources are not diverted from vital disease eradication measures and the most urgent cases are dealt with first.

Talks have been held with MAFF about what improvements can be made to the scheme without compromising the disease control measures.

NFU Deputy President Tim Bennett said: "The setting up of the welfare scheme was desperately needed - it is proving absolutely vital for many farmers.

"But in the two weeks since it was started, it has been deluged with thousands of applications that simply cannot be dealt with straight away. There is an urgent need to prioritise the most pressing cases.

"MAFF needs to communicate clearly the purpose of the scheme and how it is operated.

"We need farmers to pull together on this. Please hold back if your welfare case is not absolutely urgent."

He added: "We are urgently looking at what practical changes can be made to the scheme to speed up the whole process. For example, we have pressed for additional telephone lines into the Intervention Board to deal with the high volume of calls.

"We are working with those implementing the scheme to look at what other issues may be preventing its smooth running, including how landfill sites are being used.

"And we are also urgently addressing with Government how to get the market moving again in restricted areas so that finished animals can go to slaughter and alleviate the pressure."

As of today, 60,000 animals had been slaughtered under the scheme. Applications for 1.5 million animals have been submitted.

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