FUTURE OF SHEEP INDUSTRY HANGS IN THE BALANCE

Last week, the UK government refused to provide aid to Scotland to compensate for the crippling trade restrictions which have resulted from the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Surrey. As a result, NFUS is now looking for the Scottish government to step in.

The future of the sheep industry is in jeopardy, with a market collapse leaving many farmers questioning their future and with time running out to save their businesses. Losses in the pig sector and welfare problems for dairy bull calves are also taking their toll.

The cabinet secretary for rural affairs in Scotland, Richard Lochhead, is in no doubt how desperate the situation now is on Scotland's livestock farms. As we have said from the start, we feel the legal, moral and financial responsibility for this outbreak lies with the UK government, but we are out of time. We can't stand by and watch any more political wrangling over this subject and we are turning to the Scottish government to address this crisis.

We need to save the infrastructure in the sheep industry, upon which thousands of jobs depend. Movement restrictions have caused huge welfare problems and the subsequent price collapse has left many of our members facing ruin. We have sheep farmers

sending us details of individual losses running into tens of thousands of pounds. That is set against their average income last year of just over £4,000. The situation in the pigs sector is also dire and dairy farmers have calves that

simply have no market any more.

Farmers are facing bills they

just can't pay and we won't sit by and watch a major part of Scotland's food industry disappear as a result of a crisis which was not of farmers' making.

I am heartened by the Scottish government's promise not to stand idly by and watch the industry go into meltdown. It is critical that the verbal support translates into a meaningful aid package this week if our livestock industry is to still be there next year to take advantage of the opportunities I believe are in front of it.

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