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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Vaccine 'needed' to fight farm disease
foot-and-mouth warning
The disease has had a profound impact on rural Britain
A senior government adviser on the countryside has called for a pilot vaccination scheme against foot-and-mouth, so the country can be better prepared to fight any future outbreaks.

Chairman of the Countryside Agency, Ewen Cameron, who on Wednesday launched the biggest survey so far of the impact of the disease, said the public would not tolerate the slaughter of livestock on such a large scale again.

The Countryside Agency report says the current foot-and-mouth crisis is threatening the entire fabric of rural life, and has so far cost the overall economy about 4bn.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) said on Wednesday it was "keeping the discussion open" on the issue of a vaccine, which has split the views of experts.

'Difficult recovery'

The agency says some countryside areas have been hit extremely hard - and some may never recover.

In Cumbria, for example, it said an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 jobs were at risk - which is about 9% of total employment.

The report comes as the total of new cases in the recent outbreak in Northumberland reached 13.

Disease statistics
Cases so far: 1,989
Animals slaughtered: 3,770,000
Awaiting slaughter: 18,000

Seven Scottish farms have been put under tight foot-and-mouth restrictions following contact with a contaminated farmer from the area.

If no new cases occur by Thursday, Scotland will have been free of the disease for three months - which will enable farmers to apply for export licences.

The report said the government had acted quickly in stemming short-term problems, but now needed to look at long-term recovery plans.

Mr Cameron wants a vaccination programme to be tested, ahead of any possible future outbreaks.

"I would like to see a vaccination policy tested in the current outbreak because I don't think the public would stand for a mass slaughter policy in any future outbreak," he said.

Recession exacerbated

The report indicates that most of the 4bn losses were suffered by the tourist industry, as the number of foreign visitors to the UK plummeted.

"The immediate effects of the outbreak on tourism in 2001 are having a greater impact on the UK economy than the effects on agriculture and its supply chain", it said.

It said that about 20,000 to 30,000 jobs in tourism could be affected this year.

The report said the disease added to existing problems in the countryside, which was already in "severe recession".

Agriculture was already in recession and many households depended on rural tourism and its suppliers for jobs and income

Ewen Cameron Countryside Agency Chairman

Structural changes, a cyclical downturn, BSE and the strong pound meant farming income was at its lowest level for 25 years in 1999 and still falling, it said.

A wide range of rural businesses in the service sector, from agricultural suppliers to pubs, garages and local shops, have all suffered severe losses of income.

Mr Cameron told the BBC: "The effect on various businesses outside agriculture has been tremendous.

"A lot of these businesses rely on fat they gain during the summer, which hasn't happened this year - I think we're going to see more bankruptcies over the winter as they run out of cash."

The report said the disease will speed up the loss of local services and force many young people to move away from their villages to urban areas because of a lack of local jobs.

The agency called for urgent government action to encourage more people to visit the countryside.

It also suggested more help should be given to farmers to enable them to diversify into other businesses.

And it urged a speeding up of measures announced in last year's Rural White Paper to help improve local facilities for people living in the countryside.

The BBC's Tom Heap
"The rural economy would not stand this burden again"
The BBC's Richard Bilton
reports from Hollygate farm, Stragglethorpe, Nottinghamshire
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