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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 August 2007, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Rural economy braced for setback
By Simon Atkinson and Bill Wilson
Business reporters, BBC News

The 2001 foot-and-mouth disease epidemic resulted in 6.5 million animals being slaughtered and cost the economy about 8.5bn.

Foot-and-mouth restrictions sign from 2001 outbreak
The latest outbreak will have wide-reaching effects

Although the scale of the outbreak this time is so far contained, early measures taken by the government mean that there may be a heavy economic impact.

An immediate ban on the movement of animals at one stroke halts trade both at home and abroad.

The UK has imposed a voluntary ban on exports of all animals and animal products, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

The European Commission said it will ban live animal exports from the UK, as well as meat and dairy products from the area affected by the outbreak.

Meanwhile some country and market shows scheduled for the weekend have been cancelled, with others have gone ahead without cattle, sheep and pigs.

This sudden disruption to trade comes as a particular blow to cattle farmers given that exports of British beef only resumed in May last year - having been banned in 1996 after the discovery of a link between BSE in cattle and variant CJD in humans.

UK farming contributed 5.6bn to Britain's economy in 2006, according to Defra figures.

The head of the National Farmers Union in Northumberland, Malcolm Corbett, said that many farmers were just recovering from the impact of the last foot-and-mouth outbreak.

'Body blow'

"By its nature farming is a long-term business. With the sheep flocks we are just coming out of the after-effects of 2001," Mr Corbett said.

"This is a real body blow to the livestock industry which is already suffering a minor crisis with the farm gate prices (received for produce)."

And farmers and other sectors of the rural industry will be hoping that the effects do not even start to approach the devastation visited on Cumbria, which bore the brunt of the outbreak in 2001.

We also have to make sure that it is not a disaster for the wider rural economy
David Fursdon, Country Land and Business Association

Then, a total of 893 county premises were infected, and 3,500 farms either lost all or some of their stock.

In the county 1.1m sheep, 215,000 cattle, 45,000 pigs, and 1,500 other animals were killed.

Farmers also saw their costs soar, as healthy animals that would otherwise have been sold were restricted to their farms and were extra mouths to be fed, after the authorities served farms with notices preventing the movement of livestock.

Other costs were incurred by farmers as they were forced to disinfect vehicles every time they moved them from one field, along a public road, to another field.

Some farmers ended up with a bill of 20,000 for their disinfectant used.

Tourism worries

The latest news comes after some farmers' livelihoods have been devastated by June and July floods which have wiped out crops.

But it is not just farmers who will be badly hit should the disease be found to be more widespread than the farm in Surrey.

Lake District scene
Tourism was badly hit in 2001, as well as agriculture

Tourism is estimated to contribute about 15bn to the rural economy - supporting close to 400,000 jobs.

The 2001 outbreak of the disease saw the rural economy devastated, with 80% of country parks, 90% of farms and more than one-third of historic properties closed to visitors.

And in the aftermath, the trade noted that it did not see post-epidemic compensation that went to farmers.

Speaking about the latest outbreak David Fursdon, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said: "Also vital is the impact on diversified rural businesses and rural tourism. Tourism and other related businesses lost 5bn in 2001 as a result of this disease.

"Careful handling of this outbreak will, I hope, mean that this is not a disaster for British farming but we also have to make sure that it is not a disaster for the wider rural economy."

The worst thing that people can do is cancel their bed and breakfast booking and jump on a cheap flight to the continent
Countryside Alliance

The Cumbrian tourist industry was hit particularly hard, with an estimated 230m of income lost, one third of money made annually from tourism.

And 7,000 jobs in the tourism sector were also lost.

Other industries hit included the agricultural supply business - companies supplying things like animal feed and pharmaceutical companies.

Tradesmen employed in the tourist industry also saw their work drop off.

'Open for business'

For now, though, people are being told there are no restrictions on their movements around the UK.

"Our response to this disease is in animal health terms, it's in farming terms." said the UK's Chief Veterinary Officer, Debby Reynolds. "The countryside itself stays open for business".

And Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance said that visitors should not stay away.

"The worst thing that people can do is cancel their bed and breakfast booking and jump on a cheap flight to the continent," he said.

However, Anne Milton, the Conservative MP for Guildford, said that restrictions on people's movements could not be ruled out.

"Shutting down the countryside has a huge impact on tourism, and we are right at the start of the summer holidays," she said.

"But there should be no hesitation to do what needs to be done."

NFU president speaks of 'enormous concern'

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