The measures announced today will leave swathes of farmland "dead" in a grim but necessary slaughter programme needed to rein in the plague of foot and mouth, says the NFU.

Farmers will be sickened by the prospect of the slaughter of a "significant" number of currently healthy animals - those connected with affected livestock markets and dealers and within 3kms of outbreaks in the North West - but will reluctantly accept that it is inevitable.

NFU President Ben Gill, who listened to Agriculture Minister Nick Brown's statement in the House of Commons said: "These are strong measures which will leave farmers feeling desperate and appalled at the implications for our industry.

"But not to act in this way would be even more disastrous for Britain's livestock farmers. If we do not try to cull ahead of the disease then even more animals will be affected.

"There will be many tears around the British countryside today. Our farms should be starting to jump with life with new-born lambs and calves.

"Instead many will feel that spring has been cancelled and their farms are simply 'dead'."

The announcement of more vets, additional rendering capacity, the use of landfill sites and logistical help from the Army must lead to speedier slaughter and disposal, sparing farmers the harrowing scenes which many have had to witness in recent days. It is essential that this much increased cull is coupled with bigger logistical and disposal support.

Farmers will also be relieved to hear that a welfare scheme will be put in place to alleviate a backlog of pigs on farms and to help stranded sheep and cows, some of which are about to give birth, Mr Gill said.

Mr Gill added: "These are tough but terrible measures which I regret to say are undoubtedly needed. We will do whatever we can to get ahead of this scourge on our countryside.

"There is no quick solution to our problems and it is important for all livestock farmers to recognise that this is going to be with us for some time.

"Only by acting in a hard and decisive manner now can we reduce the overall length of stress on our beleaguered industry."

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Updated: October 2005.