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The announcement last week that animals caught up in foot and mouth infected areas can be moved to abattoirs outside these areas will be a hollow offer if farmers are having to pay prohibitively heavy costs, says the NFU.

DEFRA has ordered that every animal moved under these circumstances must be inspected by a private veterinary surgeon at the producer's expense.

Since the change, farmers have been calling the NFU, worried that they need to take advantage of the scheme - often for animal welfare reasons - but cannot do so because they cannot afford the veterinary charges.

NFU Deputy President Tim Bennett said the NFU was taking the matter up with Secretary of State Margaret Beckett.

Farmers are being asked to pay about £100 a load, including cleansing and disinfection costs.

Mr Bennett said: "We welcomed the announcement when it was made last week as it is something we have fought hard for.

"It is right that there should be a high level of veterinary inspection because of the increased risk posed when moving animals from an infected area to a "clean" area.

"But it will be a hollow offer if Ministers do not make good on the charges - the veterinary inspections are something they have ordered.

"Abattoirs could help streamline the process and reduce costs by getting themselves authorised as cleansing and disinfection centres.

"With many farmers literally holding on by their fingertips after seeing their income simply evaporate, there should be no question about them picking up the tab. The fact of the matter is that they cannot and should not pay these extra charges."

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