First wave of foot and mouth was worst in world

First wave of foot and mouth was worst in world

May 31, 2001 The Guardian (London) by Helen Carter

As foot and mouth entered its 100th day yesterday, the government's chief scientific adviser admitted that the first wave of the disease had been the world's largest outbreak.

David King said that, at the beginning, there had been 10 times as many cases recorded as in the 1967 epidemic. And he warned farmers to prepare for more cases. What had hap pened in Settle, North Yorkshire - a cluster of seven new cases over the weekend - could happen anywhere in the country.

"The only way we can damp it down is to maintain a strict regime," he said yesterday. It was possible that the epidemic might drag on until August, he said, denying any suggestion that scientists had been given a deadline for eradication - such as next week's general election - by the government.

And farmers should not kid themselves that damping boots in disinfectant troughs was enough to stop the spread, Professor King said. "This is the most infectious animal disease there is."

His comments came hours after it emerged that a former stockman had apparently taken his life because of the devastation caused by the outbreak.

Andrew Keighley's body was discovered hanging at his father's farm in Castley, North Yorkshire, on Monday morning. The 33-year-old had worked for 17 years as a stockman at Otley Auction Mart until it closed three months ago.

His father, Willie, yesterday urged others in the crisis-hit agricultural industry to be vigilant to avoid a similar tragedy happening in their family.

"I saw my son go from a fit, healthy lad to a total wreck in three days. He left us a note to say that foot and mouth disease and his love of his job in farming had killed him.

"The tragedy of my son will haunt me for the rest of my life," he told BBC Look North.

Restrictions on moving livestock were lifted in parts of Devon yesterday, to get 8,000 healthy animals moved for slaughter. The decision was announced to 200 farmers who were protesting outside the Ministry of Agriculture's headquarters in Exeter.

Another case of the disease was confirmed by Maff at a farm in Crowley, near Northwich, the third in Cheshire in recent days. Over the weekend, two neighbouring farms had cases, and apparently farm workers ignored restrictions and moved between the three.

A survey by the Country Land and Business Association said rural businesses were losing an average of pounds 20,000 a month , with incomes down 50%.

John Walker, of the Cumbria Crisis Alliance, said there was a feeling that the region was being forgotten. "We have been devastated by foot and mouth," he said. "A lot people affected are in their 50s and 60s and have poured everything into their businesses."

He described the economy in the region as reaching meltdown. Families had split, peo ple had committed suicide, and many were taking anti-depressants. For the tourism industry, unlike farmers, he said, there were no envelopes containing cheques to compensate them - referring to the money paid to those who had animals destroyed.

"Tourism has no voice," Mr Walker added. "Although the industry is worth more than the farming industry, we feel nothing is filtering through to us."

It emerged yesterday that 24 soldiers sent to Skipton, North Yorkshire, to help in the crisis had been staying in a four-star hotel. Sue Amphlett, of the Plough Inn in the village of Wigglesworth, between Skipton and Settle, said she had been contacted by Maff to make the booking, but the ministry later cancelled it on finding another hotel was available.

"I couldn't believe Maff had wasted such a golden opportunity to bring business into the countryside," she said. "We are fighting to survive and Maff could be giving us some help, instead of which we are going down the plughole."

The Ministry of Defence said the hotel was chosen because it needed to be approved by Maff as offering a full laundry and disinfectant service.

The number of cases has reached 1,664, and a further 6,132 farms next to infected livestock have had culls. A map of the outbreaks shows they are now confined to the western side of Britain.

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