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World at One Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 16:27 GMT
Time for a national debate on agriculture
Spread of virus raises questions about farming practice
Spread of virus raises questions about farming practice
The fears of farmers north of the border have been realised: foot-and-mouth has reached Scotland.

Two farms in Dumfries have been confirmed in a group of six new cases of the disease today.

This is the first appearance north of the border, and the spread of the infection seems to be remorseless.

It is now reaching into every corner of the Kingdom and possibly beyond, if the worst fears of the Irish authorities are borne out.
Calls for a return to traditional farming
Calls for a return to traditional farming

As well as the Dumfries cases, the latest outbreaks also included two in Carlisle, one in County Durham and one in south Armagh, in Northern Ireland.

All those involved accept that - at present - the outbreak is not being contained: but they insist that all the individual cases can be linked to what's believed to be a single source - at Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland.

At this mornings daily briefing at the Ministry of Agriculture, Nick Brown described the new cases as serious and said hopes of containing the spread had now been dashed.

"I have been nervous about this for some time because of the pattern of trade between Northumberland, which is the primary source of the outbreak, and Scotland," he said.
Agriculture minister Nick Brown:
Agriculture minister Nick Brown: "This is serious"

Of the two Scottish cases, one at Lockerbie involves sheep, and the other has been found in cattle not far away at Canonbie.

A further case is being investigated in Central Scotland and the outbreaks are likely to prove an important test for the Scottish Executive.

The rural development minister, Ross Finnie, said that everyone had known "deep down inside" that foot-and-mouth was no respecter of national borders.

"We can only hope that there are no further cases developing, as a consequence of the tight measures that are already in place," he said.
Scotland's rural development minister Ross Finnie
Scotland's rural development minister Ross Finnie

Elsewhere, the Crufts dog show has been cancelled and a special debate is to take place in the Irish Parliament this afternoon on the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The announcement came as the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland impounded a lorryload of cattle, which were being transported from within a 'foot and mouth' exclusion zone.

In Wales, Dyfed-Powys police also stopped a farmer attempting to move his sheep, denouncing the attempted infringement of the tight restriction rules as "madness".

The reason for the return of foot and mouth remains a mystery: but much soul-searching is taking place over the way intensive farming methods are aiding its rapid spread.

Shutdown of the British countryside
Shutdown of the British countryside
At the end of last year, the Government published its Rural White Paper with a range of ideas for improving conditions in the countryside.

The Environment Minister Michael Meacher said he was keen to maintain local amenities and services wherever possible - pointing to the merits of local abbatoirs.

And he accepted that modern farming methods - transporting livestock over long distances - had made containment of the foot-and-mouth outbreak harder.

"Isolating this disease must have priority... but there are other implications: have we got a sustainable agricultural system at present?
Environment minister Michael Meacher:
Environment minister Michael Meacher: "We need a major national debate"

"What exactly are the mechanisms that can drive a sustainable agricultural system?

"We need a major national debate on that. I think some practices in agriculture clearly cannot be said to be sustainable," he said.

Links to more World at One stories are at the foot of the page.


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