Foot and mouth flare-up spreads

Foot and mouth flare-up spreads

August 28, 2001 The Daily Telegraph (London) by Thomas Penny

THE foot and mouth outbreak in Northumberland intensified yesterday with a further five cases confirmed in an area which until Thursday was thought to be free of the disease.

Farmers in other parts of the country called for the return of restrictions on movement and access as the number of cases around Allendale, in the north Pennines, reached 11.

A further three cases were confirmed in Cumbria, at Great Asby, near Penrith, Kirkby Stephen and Appleby.

Allendale, which had previously been untouched by the disease, is flanked by moorland grazing and heavily stocked with animals, which vets said increased the risk of contagion. Stringent movement and disinfectant regulations have been imposed and slaughtermen were due to have killed 6,000 sheep and 1,200 cattle by last night. Gordon Meek, the National Farmers' Union livestock spokesman, said: "We are looking at sheep and cattle nose-to-nose right through that valley. There is no arable land and not a lot of woodland, so there are no natural breaks.

"We do not know how far it has gone yet and the measures should contain it from spreading again. But damage has been done already."

The valley is now at the centre of a 400 square mile "blue box" zone, under which vehicles entering the area are disinfected, footpaths closed and movements restricted.

Police and officials from the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs are patrolling the area, which covers 550 farms, to ensure that bio-security precautions are being followed, including the use of foot baths, sprays and a blanket ban on animal movements. The popular coast to coast cycle route, which passes through the restricted area and over unfenced grazing land, was being closed today.

Emma Myers, whose family farms in Allendale, said: "If we lose the animals, we lose everything. We were lucky to escape untouched in the last outbreak and I just hope it passes us by again."

Three epidemiologists working to establish the source of the outbreak played down the suggestion that it was linked to Hexham Mart.

Arthur Griffiths, veterinary manager of the Newcastle disease control centre, said the market had been used as a collection point for animals on their way to slaughter and stock had not gone from the market back to the farms.

"We are not looking at Hexham Mart," he said. "We are looking at the possibility of the disease being brought in by a low-grade infection which has suddenly flared up.

"It is very much like a CID operation where you get information coming in and you investigate it."

Animal movement restrictions in the Hexham area, which had not had a case since May, were due to be lifted in a few weeks, adding to fears that the countryside elsewhere had been reopened too soon. Peter Davidson-Smith, the chairman of the NFU in Gloucestershire, where final restrictions were lifted last week, said: "We're going to have to put the disinfectant mats back down."

Richard Haddock, a farmer in Devon and the region's spokesman for livestock producers, urged councils to close footpaths again.

He added: "It is clear now that the disease is hiding in sheep and could erupt anywhere at any time." James Withers, of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, said the latest outbreaks were causing concern in Scotland, which, if it can remain disease-free until tomorrow, can apply for the return of export licences.

He said: "What the Northumberland outbreaks show for people north of the border is that they cannot afford to let their guard drop."

Kenneth Clarke, speaking at the Moorgreen Country Show in Nottinghamshire, attacked the Government's lack of leadership.

He said: "I am at an agricultural show where there is no livestock and a lot of very worried people. The Government has completely failed to get on top of the outbreak."

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