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The announcement by the Government that there will be limited movements of livestock to abattoirs from Tuesday will help to ensure that shops are stocked with British meat, says the NFU.

But the plan to allow movements to specifically licensed abattoirs will be strictly controlled, said NFU President Ben Gill.

He said: "Nothing must come in the way of eradicating this disease. That is our absolute priority."

Under the plan, no movement of animals from farm to farm will be allowed and all movements to slaughterhouses will be licensed with thorough cleansing and disinfection of vehicles at the farm and the abattoir.

Mr Gill added: "We have been working with MAFF and the Chief Veterinary Officer to draw up this plan and the CVO has advised us that this can happen without compromising efforts to stamp out the disease.

"This will be of some help in alleviating the growing animal welfare problems resulting from the backlog of animals on farms as well as helping to lessen the acute financial difficulties of livestock farmers unable to market their animals.

"The movement will also enable British meat to maintain its place in our shops, which is especially vital following the outrageous news today that Germany is still flagrantly breaching BSE rules."

He added: "It is worth stating one more time for the record that there is no implication for the human food chain of foot and mouth."

The lack of movement within farms and from holding to holding is also leading to growing welfare problems. Disease control must be the priority but the NFU has asked the CVO to explore if there is any possibility of allowing limited licensed movements at a later stage.

But Mr Gill said: "We would again rely on the advice of the CVO that this would not damage our efforts to contain the disease."

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