Farmers blamed over epidemic

Farmers blamed over epidemic

July 5, 2001 The Daily Telegraph(London) by David Brown

COMPLACENT farmers and rural tradesmen were blamed by the Government's chief scientist yesterday for prolonging the foot and mouth epidemic.

Despite new test results showing that the disease is not endemic in the nation's sheep population, it is lingering longer than it should on some farms because some farmers are failing to maintain hygiene precautions, Prof David King said.

Two or three new outbreaks of foot and mouth were still being confirmed a day 19 weeks after the epidemic started.

Prof King, who was called in after the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture failed to keep it under control, cited a recent sheep-shearing contest in Somerset that went ahead despite the risk of the virus being spread by people and sheep taking part. He said: "Biosecurity measures are being relaxed. If they had been observed then I have no doubt the disease would be at a much lower level by now."

Speaking at the launch of a pounds 750,000 Government video campaign to show farmers how to guard against the disease and to spot symptoms, Prof King disclosed that early results of a blood-testing campaign showed only about 300 of 200,000 tests in sheep had proved positive.

It meant that the virus was not endemic, as many farmers feared, but was lingering in some flocks. Ministers and officials will travel this week to continuing "hot-spots" to "reinforce" the hygiene message.

Ben Gill, President of the National Farmers' Union, said: "The tail of the disease is proving very stubborn but if we cannot get it beaten by the autumn when the number of sheep movements increases again, we will be in serious trouble."

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