Farmers throughout the country have responded angrily to news that the government will go ahead with proposed cuts in the compensation payments they will receive in the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis.

The new lower rates of payment for animals slaughtered during the crisis, in accordance with the Livestock Welfare (Disposal) Scheme established in March (and due to end on 31 December), will become applicable from Tuesday.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) maintain that the new flat rates for most categories of animal “reflect market trends”. They include prices of £350 for breeding cows and heifers. Such trends also mean however that a higher rate will be given for breeding ewes, at £30 a head.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) was quoted on BBC online as saying that the decision would impact thousands of already vulnerable farmers: “The whole industry united to condemn these cuts. But these pleas have simply been ignored.

“That Defra has gone ahead, knowing full well the desperate impact this will have on producers with a long winter ahead, shows a heartless and brutal disregard for the state of thousands of farmers.

“This hits the most vulnerable group of farmers who have been under restriction the longest and still cannot benefit from the movement flexibility granted so far.”

An independent report into the crisis recently published by Devon county council has heavily criticised the government for its “lamentable” mass cull policy, but the decision has been defended by Farming minister Lord Whitty, who told listeners of BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme that the government was faced with an unprecedented situation.

The mass cull policy would however remain in place in the event of further outbreaks, he maintained: “Policy at the moment would be to follow the successful dimensions of the strategy we have adopted so far, which is basically that the culling, as long as we match the target figures, is effective in containing the disease.”