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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 09:04 GMT
EU considers farm disease rethink
sheep carcasses in North Yorkshire
The disease dealt a crippling blow to UK agriculture
The UK will press for a debate on the eradication of foot-and-mouth disease at a major European Union conference in Brussels.

The two-day conference, involving more than 400 politicians, officials and experts, is a response to growing pressure for a re-think of the way the disease is handled in Europe.

The UK, which is co-sponsoring the conference, had its last confirmed case of the disease on 30 September and hopes to be declared disease-free next month.

Pyre of cow carcasses
Nearly four million animals were culled in the UK
UK Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett will urge delegates to consider a fundamental re-think of international policies to manage the disease.

Since 1991 the European Union has had a policy of slaughtering all animals which contract the disease, in order to keep its disease-free status and allow its meat to be exported around the world.

But there is a growing consensus that the sight of mass pyres of burning animals in this year's huge British outbreak should never be tolerated again.

The UK delegation will speak about the impact on tourism such as the US tourists who feared taking the disease back to their own country.

Future outbreaks

The major debate at the conference will be whether vaccination should be used more widely in future outbreaks.

It has been called by the Dutch Government, which vaccinated livestock when the disease spread from the UK, but had to kill vaccinated animals to avoid costly trading penalties.

There will be calls for a change in those rules, to allow more animals to survive any future outbreak.

Ms Beckett said ahead of the conference: "I think one of the questions which should at least be put on the table is whether the whole basis of the international policy is right.

Contingency plan

"The basis of policy across the world, not just in the EU, is if you have an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease it must be eradicated, it must be stamped out, because it has always been regarded as such a danger.

"Is the policy of eradication right, if it is why is it, because what you then do flows from whether you are content to live with the disease or whether you are trying to get rid of it?"

Ian Gardener from the National Farmers' Union said it hoped the conference would be a step towards putting in place a proper contingency plan to deal with any further outbreaks of the disease.

"A plan which both the public authorities and farmers and everyone surrounding farming knows and understands and will co-operate with," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tom Heap
"If the disease had to be tackled once more... never the same again"
Ian Gardner of the National Farmers' Union
"A slip back down the ladder at this stage would be an absolute disaster"


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08 May 01 | Europe
15 Mar 01 | In Depth
28 Mar 01 | Europe
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