Over the past two decades, the devastating effects of BSE have largely been a taboo subject among farmers. In farming communities throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland, those who suffered the worst economically feared that they would be stigmatised and while those who escaped an outbreak were relieved, they perhaps also felt slightly guilty about their relief.

Yesterday afternoon (11 December) however, the silence was broken as 150 farmers gathered in Tullamore for the first meeting of a support group through which they hope to share experiences and difficulties and fight together for compensation.

As well as the trauma of BSE, a lot of farmers had cause to vent their anger as they felt they had been ignored by the government, which gives too much attention to the consumer angle of the disease. Many felt that they had not received enough information and that levels of compensation were hopelessly inadequate considering the huge loss of earnings incurred.

The group also expressed its intention to build a national network of similarly affected farmers in order to spread support and active help.