New cases spark fresh foot-and-mouth alert

New cases spark fresh foot-and-mouth alert

May 22, 2001 Financial Times (London) by Michael Mann

The government and farmers' leaders yesterday warned against complacency over foot-and-mouth disease in the wake of a new cluster of cases on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in northern England.

The region has suffered 16 cases of the virus since May 10, dashing hopes that the epidemic was disappearing and raising concern that farmers may be dropping their guard in the battle to stamp out the disease.

"We've said all along that the epidemic will have a long tail and it'll be a bumpy ride down," the Ministry of Agriculture said. "This isn't unexpected, but that doesn't stop it being a cause for concern."

The latest cluster emerged despite government assurances that the disease was under control. Last Thursday was the first day since February when no new cases were reported.

Some 50,000 animals have been culled in the area around the town of Settle, and that figure could rise steeply if the disease spreads to nearby grazing land.

"We are not out of the woods yet," said Michael Paske, National Farmers' Union vice-president. "We are only too aware that there are going to be many more cases before we are finally clear. And this could still be months away."

The agriculture ministry denied suggestions the government was trying to divert attention away from foot-and-mouth ahead of the general election.

"There is no cover-up," the ministry said. "We are continuing to pursue rigorously the same policy of taking out infected farms and those in dangerous contact."

More than 1,600 cases of foot-and-mouth have already been recorded, with the total number of animals earmarked for slaughter now above the 3m mark.

Just a small percentage of businesses affected by foot-and-mouth have taken advantage of government relief measures, according to a survey released yesterday.

The British Chambers of Commerce found that 41 per cent of businesses in its study had been affected in some way by the outbreak, but only just over one in 10 of these had applied for business rate relief or a temporary deferment of taxes.

The survey of 646 UK companies shows few have been forced so far to lay off staff and few have turned to their banks for assistance. More than a quarter said they had attempted to counter the the crisis by seeking new market opportunities.

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