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The BBC's Robert Piggott
"Vets have had no choice"
 real 56k

The BBC's Ben Brown
"Phoenix the calf has touched the hearts of the nation, and the heart of Downing Street too"
 real 56k

Professor Mac Johnston, Royal Veterinary College
"This is not the all-clear"
 real 56k

Fred Board, Farmer and owner of Phoenix the calf
"I am over the moon"
 real 56k

Thursday, 26 April, 2001, 21:09 GMT 22:09 UK
Calf's plight 'did not change policy'
Officials at a farm where a cull is about to take place
The culls are due to be scaled down "in some areas"
The government is denying suggestions that its decision to relax the policy of slaughtering healthy cattle follows the public outcry over Phoenix the calf.

Vets will now be given the power to decide whether animals on farms neighbouring a foot-and-mouth outbreak should be destroyed.

It means that the life of Phoenix, the calf from Devon who survived five days buried under a mound of dead carcasses, has been spared.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,483 - three on Thursday
2,287,000 animals have been slaughtered
152,000 animals awaiting slaughter

But the Agriculture Minister Nick Brown told the Commons the decision had been taken on scientific advice, not sentiment.

There were only three cases of foot-and-mouth reported on Thursday - two in Northumberland and one in Devon - the lowest daily total since 24 February, the fourth day of the outbreak.

For the first time since 1 March, there has been no new cases in Cumbria, the worst affected county.

But four more cases of suspected human foot-and-mouth disease are being tested by the Public Health Laboratory Service.

Samples from the four people have been received by the Central Public Health Laboratory in north London after they went to their GPs with concerns.

In total tests are now being carried out on seven people suspected of having the disease.

Referring to the decision to relax the contiguous cull policy, Mr Brown said pigs and sheep on farms neighbouring infected sites would still be slaughtered, adding: "Cattle may, however, be spared, if there is adequate biosecurity."

The policy shift follows claims by farmers' leaders that killing Phoenix would "make King Herod look like a humanitarian".

It also follows an announcement by the government's chief scientist that there should be hardly any new cases of foot-and-mouth disease by 7 June - thought to be the likely date for a general election.

Disease 'not beaten yet'

However Professor Roy Anderson, an adviser to the government, told the BBC it was a "little bit early" to say the epidemic was beaten and urged caution about relaxing the policy.

"The decline in cases we have seen over the last few weeks ... is a direct consequence of the effective implementation of the policy of slaughter."

Mr Brown insisted the change in culling was not a "relaxing" of the rules, but amounted to "refinements" of the government's previous policy.

Phoenix with owner Michaela Board
Phoenix was reprieved as a result of the government's decision
"These refinements can be expected to provide some relief from automatic slaughter of cattle," he said.

However Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo maintained the government's response had been inspired by Labour spin doctors after they saw pictures of Phoenix on the front pages of the newspapers.

"This week the minister and his advisers said the cull of animals on contiguous farms was necessary to curb the spread of the disease," he told MPs.

Human cases

"Then Number 10 spin doctors saw pictures of Phoenix and the policy was changed."

But Philip Board, 42, who runs Clarence Farm in Membury, Devon, where Phoenix lives said the calf's life being spared was a "symbol of hope".

"It is absolutely fantastic - a ray of light for the farming industry," he said.

The countryside has been ravaged by the epidemic and the slaughter of 2.2m animals.

Mr Yeo attacked the handling of the outbreak, saying only the government's "incompetence" had allowed the problem to become so severe.

Figures on Thursday showed that 1,480 sites had been confirmed as infected with foot-and-mouth disease.

Health experts have confirmed they are also investigating three separate suspected human cases of the disease.

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See also:

26 Apr 01 | Health
More human foot-and-mouth feared
23 Apr 01 | Health
Human 'may have foot-and-mouth'
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