The EU's Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) agreed on Tuesday (6 November) to lift restrictions on British meat exports, subject to a ban remaining in place on exports from Surrey, Buckinghamshire, East Berkshire, West Sussex and Hampshire. The committee also insisted on a new rule preventing animals being moved out of an area within 150km of the source of the disease at Pirbright, other than for immediate slaughter.
As a result, movement restrictions will be tightened for hundreds of farmers, more than five weeks on from the last confirmed outbreak of the disease. NFU president Peter Kendall said: "The lifting of export restrictions across most of the country is very good news and we expect to see a rapid, significant and badly needed improvement in market prices for lambs, cull cows and cull sows as a result of it.
"But the imposition of new movement restrictions on hundreds of farms miles away from the centre of the outbreak is perverse and unreasonable, given that we are five weeks on from the last outbreak and when a huge and intensive programme of blood-testing has revealed no signs at all of residual virus.
"Both in this country and through our team in Brussels, we have registered the strongest possible objections to Defra and the EU Commission. How can farmers be expected to understand a situation in which they can move animals across a boundary line this week, but will be banned from doing so next week, when there is not a scrap of evidence to suggest that the disease is still around?
"Up to now, we have been prepared to accept the decisions of the veterinary authorities here and in Brussels as a necessary price to be paid for stamping out foot-and-mouth disease. But in this case, the EU appears to be extending the agony for hundreds of farmers for no worthwhile benefit in terms of controlling the disease."
Mr Kendall said this was only the latest example of where disease control decisions appeared to be adding to the economic damage and disruption being caused by bluetongue as well as foot-and-mouth, for no good veterinary reason.
"Defra should be doing everything it can to minimise the impact of movement restrictions on the livestock industry in the south east and East Anglia, consistent with not risking the spread of disease - especially when you remember where this outbreak came from," he said.
"We in the NFU will support whatever action is necessary to stamp out foot-and-mouth and minimise the spread of bluetongue, but we will not condone restrictions that are disproportionate, illogical, and serve no worthwhile purpose."