AS the mass culling continues, with more than 4,000 animals in Pendle among the latest victims of the slaughter, a chilling insight was given today into the dreadful economic ravages of the foot and mouth disease epidemic in Lancashire.

And horrendous as the toll is in animals lives, the cost to farms and the countryside in terms of lost jobs and income is revealed to be equally shocking.

For a study by the Clitheroe-based Bowland Initiative group, a government-backed farm advisory service, today disclosed that, in Lancashire, more than 700 jobs have been axed as a result of the foot and mouth crisis and that farms have lost more than £8million in income.

There is similar suffering in firms providing services to agriculture, and rural businesses -- hotels, bed and breakfasts, pubs, restaurants, cafs, village shops and post offices -- have seen their revenue halved.

Yet the figures cover only the first two months of the crisis, which has now escalated to 49 outbreaks of the disease since the first was confirmed in February. And since the report was compiled, culling has taken place at more than 250 other farms.

But even this conservative estimate presents the grim conclusion that the future of farming in Lancashire is bleak and reveals that many farmers are considering quitting the industry altogether.

It is perhaps because these dreadful effects -- arguably now twice as bad as the figures suggest -- are fragmented across an entire and hundreds of individual enterprises that their true extent is not realised, but if they are brought into focus by comparing the job and income losses with the impact of a single factory closure, then the shock is truly brought home.

Compensation is not enough to undo the economic and human harm of a crisis of this -- and government action and investment in the recovery of Lancashire's countryside must also follow, just as it would have to if one its urban industries suddenly collapsed.