Farmers hit by foot and mouth should soon find that compensation payments have been speeded up and that more movements of animals to slaughter can take place following calls to Government from the NFU.

A dedicated slaughter compensation unit has been set up by MAFF to tackle the current backlog in payments following repeated complaints from the NFU about delays.

As part of this, a helpline service is being set up to deal with requests for information from producers about their compensation claims.

The NFU has also called for licenses to be issued promptly allowing farmers within 3km of a confirmed case to move healthy animals for slaughter into the food chain.

This change was announced last week by Agriculture Minister Nick Brown after vigorous NFU requests and the need for this to be implemented quickly has been pressed home continually since then.

NFU President Ben Gill said the two improvements should help take some more of the pressure off the livestock industry.

He said: "We have been inundated with complaints from members saying their payments have been delayed, sometimes for several weeks.

"Given the dire financial situation of farmers, this is unacceptable and it is good news that positive steps are being taken to rectify this.

"We are also extremely pleased that MAFF has listened to us on allowing movement to slaughter from farms with Form D notices. This will help ease the desperate situation for those farms trapped within 3km of a confirmed case.

"We will keep chipping away to get these improvements until the situation starts to return to normality. But there is still a long way to go yet."

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Updated: October 2005.