FARMERS from the North-East had an hour-long meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, at his home in Trimdon last week to discuss the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The PM invited Mr John Rider, who has a pig, cattle and arable farm at Guisborough; Mr Tony Wilson, a beef and arable farmer from Trimdon Station; and Mr Alec Turnbull, the NFU's regional senior policy adviser, to meet him.

Mr Rider is chairman of the North Riding and Durham County NFU and Mr Wilson is an NFU council delegate.

They discussed some of the concerns of local farmers, including the spread and control of the disease; the isolation farmers are facing; the state of the industry and the need to re-establish markets for British meat.

"We stressed the importance of getting British food back into the shops," said Mr Turnbull.

"The pre-emptive strikes were discussed, in relation particularly to sheep, and the need to help farmers, particularly in disease hot spot areas. We also discussed getting the right balance of control in relation to the level of disease risk, but it was stressed that the eradication of foot-and-mouth was the top priority."

The need to manage public access back to the countryside carefully was highlighted in order to help restore incomes for rural businesses.

Mr Blair asked the NFU to help devise a plan to help this return to normality in areas free of the infection.

"We also emphasised the severe animal welfare problems faced by pig producers unable to move stock. The longer this crisis goes on, the worse these problems will get," said Mr Turnbull. "And we highlighted the difficulties of moving in-lamb ewes from their over-wintering accommodation back to the farmstead."

Mr Blair promised to explore the possibility of getting animal movement licences faxed to farmers, which would speed up the process of getting animals to abattoir.

"The Prime Minister was very receptive, and it was reassuring to see that we had similar views in relation to resolving the current crisis and the actions required to solve the problems," said Mr Turnbull.

"It was an open and frank discussion about the state of the industry and what needs to be done to resolve the current crisis.

"We left the meeting reassured that the Prime Minister was doing everything possible to resolve the crisis."