Plans announced today to allow healthy animals trapped in foot and mouth restriction zones to go for slaughter will be a massive help in alleviating the bottleneck of pressure built up in those areas, says the NFU.

NFU President Ben Gill said the plans to allow farmers not directly affected by foot and mouth but caught up in the 10km surveillance zones to move their animals were "good news".

The scheme, set to be up and running by 23 April, will allow animals to move straight from farms to abattoirs within these zones and from there into the food chain. Farmers within 3km of a confirmed case will not be able to benefit from the scheme.

Mr Gill also welcomed the proposals to shrink some of the earliest restriction zones down to a more exact 10km radius to allow farmers to resume more normal business.

He said: "Both these announcements today will have many farmers breathing a sigh of relief. The pressure on farmers in restricted areas has been intolerable and this will take a bit of the weight off their shoulders.

"Allowing animals to move to slaughter in restricted areas will enable farmers to earn some desperately needed money from their businesses. But just as importantly it will enable trapped animals to be moved and alleviate animal welfare pressures."

Mr Gill stressed that the all the veterinary advice was that this could safely take place without spreading the disease but that every precaution must still be taken. It would also further boost the amount of British meat going into the food chain, he said.

He added: "Whilst this is good news, it does not lessen the need for urgent improvements to be made to the systems currently in place to deal with the welfare problem of animals trapped on or away from farms.

"The scheme to slaughter animals for welfare reasons is bursting at the seams. We have asked for an immediate substantial improvement in the operation of the scheme and prioritisation of cases at a local level so that the worst cases can be dealt with first. But this has not yet happened.

"We have also pressed for and received a number of changes to the welfare movement scheme, including allowing pigs to move from provisionally free areas to other areas.

"Today's announcements are a very welcome step but it must not be forgotten that the situation on the ground is still appalling."

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Updated: October 2005.