A DELEGATION of North-East farmers held crisis talks with Tony Blair at the Prime Minister's Trimdon home yesterday.

John Rider, a pig, cattle and arable farmer from Guisborough, Cleveland, and Tony Wilson, a beef and arable farmer from Trimdon Station, County Durham, were accompanied by Alec Turnbull, NFU senior policy advisor.

Mr Turnbull, who works at the NFU regional office in York, said the meeting at Mr Blair's home in his Sedgefield constituency lasted for almost an hour.

He said: "We 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.

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

Mr Tumbull added: "We 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. And we highlighted the difficulties of moving in-lamb ewes from their over winter accommodation back to the farmstead.

"Mr Blair assured us he would explore the possibility of getting animal movement licences faxed to farmers to 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.

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