THE strength of feeling against the infamous 20-day livestock standstill rule sparked a major protest from members of the National Farmers' Union, seldom seen in a protesting mood.

Herefordshire farmers, along with others from Worcester and Shropshire, massed outside the DEFRA offices in Worcester to show their opposition to the livestock controls which they say are draconian and unacceptable. Similar protests were held throughout the country.

One of the demonstrators, Liz Pursey, said she hoped the protest would give another push to the Government to make the controls more workable.

Mrs Pursey of Harewood End, last year's chair of the Herefordshire branch of the NFU, said: "We realise we cannot go back to the position before foot and mouth but we have had the controls in place for virtually two years and businesses are being seriously affected."

She said a Government risk assessment would take until May but more flexible working was needed immediately.

The protesters handed in letters to the Whittington Road offices of DEFRA urging the abolition of the standstill rule.

The letters explained the steps taken by the livestock industry to reduce disease risk and the impact of the animal movement regime.

NFU regional board chairman Michael Oakes said the standstill rule was having an impact on trade at auction markets and threatened their future viability.

The standstill rule means that when any animals are taken onto a holding, none may be moved off that holding for 20 days, except for slaughter.

So far no court action has taken place in Herefordshire against producers and a spokesman for the council's Trading Standards department said the majority of them seemed to be trying to stay within the rules that contained many and varied exemptions.

"Breaches that we do come across tend to be due to the complicated rules," he said.