LOCAL authorities throughout Scotland have been urged to follow the lead of Moray Council and source food locally to help Scottish farmers hard hit by foot and mouth restrictions. Support from consumers will be vital to the survival of the industry, said Councillor Douglas Ross as he raised an emergency motion at Wednesday's council meeting. Farmers met with Moray MSP Richard Lochhhead, cabinet secretary for rural affairs, during his visit to Clashnoir Farm, Glenlivet, on Saturday to outline their situation following the latest outbreak of the disease and cull of livestock in the south of England. Mr Lochhead said: "This second outbreak could not come at a more serious time for the welfare of our animals and the livelihoods of our farmers. "We are exploring every opportunity consistent with veterinary advice to assist Scotland's farming industry at this difficult time." The major concern of farmers is over the ban on animal movement. The council must look at how it can assist farmers at this most terrible time, Councillor Ross urged who had earlier met with president of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, Jim McLaren. The foot and mouth outbreak at a farm in Surrey on September 12 just a few weeks after the lifting of restrictions has once again led to the closure of European export markets, said Mr Ross, a former farm worker. "Any time is a terrible time for this but September is the worst," he told councillors, underlining the huge burdens that the movement restrictions have put on livestock owners," he said. "NFU Scotland estimates there are one million ewes and lambs caught up in the movement ban. They are trapped on their summer grazing hills and need to be brought down to graze lowland fields. They cannot be moved and have to be fed at an extra cost which farmers cannot bear with feed costs 40% higher today than they were 12 months ago." Local procurement is a key means of supporting Moray farmers, he underlined. "With the export markets closed they will have to rely on local people to buy local produce to boost returns. It was impressed upon me at my meeting with the NFU Scotland president that local authorities could also play a role by procuring locally sourced foods," said Councillor Ross. "Moray Council has an excellent record in sourcing food locally such as milk, meat, fruit and vegetables and I would call on this council to write to NFU Scotland to support the What's on your Plate? campaign and I would also encourage other local authorities to do so." Councillor Ross gave his support to the action taken by Mr Lochhead and the Chief Veterinary Officer. Calls being received at offices of the National Farmers Union are growing increasingly desperate, said Scottish president Mr McLaren. "We estimate there will be at least a million lambs on the hills that shouldn't be there. That is generating a huge welfare crisis. Grazing is running out and the prospects of there being enough nutrition available for ewes over the winter are horrendous. We're continuing to work on the details of schemes to alleviate the welfare problems and address the cashflow nightmare across the country," he said. "Obviously getting movements going is the best thing that can happen as it would ease the pressure on grazing and could generate cashflow." NFUS is pressing, as a top priority, for a relaxation to allow movements of animals within a farm for management reasons and between different farms which would allow sheep to be moved to new grazing areas. Mr Lochhead has led calls to the UK Government to reconsider its decision not to allow temporary restrictions on drivers' hours to allow animals to be moved following the warnings of Scottish livestock hauliers of major problems in rural areas if the backlog of lambs stranded by the foot-and-mouth outbreak is not moved. In order to ease the current problems, the industry are calling for the current 90-hour a fortnight restriction on livestock hauliers to be temporarily replaced by a maximum 56 hour week. Mr Lochhead: "This is a very serious and immediate problem not least for concerns over animal welfare. We have tens of thousands of hill sheep across Scotland who will be running out of grazing within a few days. We need the extra haulage capacity to move them. "I am very disappointed that the UK Government has not responded positively to the repeated requests of the Scottish Government and the entire Scottish livestock industry, including farmers and hauliers, for a temporary lifting of restrictions on drivers' hours as it did in the 2001 outbreak and I would urge them to reconsider." * Should local authorities buy food locally to help out farmers? Go to 'The Big Vote' to have your say.
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