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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Minister curtails disease farms visit
The foot-and-mouth outbreak is still not beaten
Rural Affairs minister Elliot Morley had to cancel a planned visit to farms in a foot-and-mouth hotspot because of fears the entourage with him might hamper efforts to contain the disease.

Mr Morley was visiting North Yorkshire to inspect new hygiene measures in the "biosecurity zone" around the town of Thirsk.

A number of farmers who were asked if they would allow the minister to visit while their sheep were blood-tested for the disease said they would prefer if Mr Morley's party, and the accompanying media, stayed away.

Crisis in farming
Total confirmed cases: 1918
New cases on Wednesday: 4
Animals slaughtered: 3,626,000
Animals awaiting slaughter: 24,000
Carcasses awaiting disposal: 13,000
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told BBC News Online the visit was called off because farmers feared the arrival of a media scrum who could spread the disease.

"Nobody had any objection to Mr Morley and his team of two going on. It was the accompanying media scrum."

He added: "Farmers want to make sure they have the highest biosecurity measures in place. The minister understands why."

The biosecurity measures in a 900-square-mile zone in the county are the tightest hygiene restrictions so far.

Police patrols

Certain vehicles going to and from 2,700 farms in the zone must have licences - issued from special cleaning stations. Police have the power to stop vehicles and check they are properly disinfected.

Farmers want to make sure they have the highest biosecurity measures in place - the minister understands why

Defra officials will now accompany all milk tanker journeys, and precautionary testing of more than 30,000 sheep - which started on Monday - will continue over several weeks.

Mr Morley also visited a North Yorkshire County Council Highways depot in Northallerton to see a police patrol car being used in the enforcement drive.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 miles of footpaths closed five months ago to stop foot-and-mouth disease spreading, are reopening on Wednesday.

Numbers plummeted

Restrictions are being lifted on nearly two-thirds of paths in the Lake District National Park and around Alston and Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria.

After the closure of the paths in Cumbria on 28 February, visitor numbers plummeted by five million, costing the local economy an estimated 288m.

Walkers in the Lake District
Walkers have been denied the freedom of the hills
Cumbria County Council leader Rex Toft said: "A balance had to be struck between helping the tourist industry while doing what we could to protect our livestock against the further spread of foot-and-mouth.

"It's been an agonising time leading up to this decision but I feel we have struck that all-important balance."

Cumbria Tourist Board chief executive, Chris Collier, said he was looking forward to welcoming visitors back to "England's most beautiful corner".

Although the paths are opening once again, there are few signs that foot-and-mouth has run its course in the county.

More than 80,000 sheep in Cumbria are undergoing blood tests to check for signs of the disease.

Beacons cull

A mass cull of 1,200 sheep has begun in the Brecon Beacons, after blood tests found further evidence of foot-and-mouth.

The slaughter, ordered by the Welsh Assembly, follows the culling of 4,000 sheep on the Welsh mountain range over the weekend.

Results of tests on another 1,200 sheep may be known on Wednesday, and a further 4,000 animals will be gathered for testing on Thursday.

The new cases have heightened fears the disease has spread further than previously thought.

The BBC's Tom Heap
"If it moves - spray it"
See also:

21 Mar 01 | UK
Rare breeds 'could be lost'
31 Jul 01 | Wales
A Brecon farmer's struggle
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