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Programme highlights Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Army takes leading role in FMD crisis
Defence Minister Geoff Hoon with General Sir Michael Jackson
Gen Sir Michael Jackson believes the army can make a difference
The last time the Commander-in-Chief of Land Forces, General Sir Mike Jackson, appeared on our television screens Britain was at war in the Balkans.

Today, he was back - suitably dressed in fatigues - to confront the menace of foot and mouth.

If anyone doubted how serious matters were, the General's appearance at a press conference in Cumbria - alongside the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon - will surely have made the point unmistakeably.

The General stressed that the Army's role was to act as the servant of the Ministry of Agriculture: but his familiar features and reassuring drawl were clearly designed to transmit a sense of calm authority: and grip.

He gave his impression of what sort of "enemy" his men were now facing.

Sitting alongside him, the defence Secretary Geoff Hoon denied that a more visible presence for the army would lead to an impression of crisis.

The army's recruitment to help in the mass cull is, however, a recognition of the worsening situation, particularly in Cumbria. The sheer logistical and physical burden of identifying, collecting, slaughtering and disposing of diseased livestock is too great for the available resources.

A week ago the Prime Minister declared his intention that the time between identifying disease and killing the animals involved should be reduced to 24 hours.

Yet - at the heart of the outbreak - things have actually been getting worse. Cumbria - and Dumfries and Galloway across the Scottish border - have seen 364 of the confirmed cases so far, more than half the new total of 703.

Live sheep wait in pens to be slaughtered under canvas at the Great Orton airfield in Cumbria
The army believes it can help speed up the cull
And the number of animals awaiting slaughter is now greater than it was six days ago. Steve Heaton, the regional Director of the NFU in Cumbria, said that the figure had risen from 45,000 to 80,000.

Achieving the 24-hour time-limit, he added, was crucial.

Since Mr Blair took personal charge of dealing with the crisis, other problems have proved just as intractable: tourists, for instance, are still shunning the British countryside.

The Prime Minister this morning called this a massive change in normal behaviour patterns, leaving many rural hotels and pubs empty: and with Easter less than three weeks away, all those involved in tourism are desperately worried about the outlook.

Ministers - aware that a stay-at-home Easter will do little for the feel-good factor - are making a concerted effort to persuade people that there are many attractions still open for business, and that the only hard-and-fast rule is to avoid farm animals.

But it's not hard to work out why the message - backed by an expensive advertising campaign - is failing to get through.

Many areas unaffected by foot and mouth seem distinctly lukewarm at the prospect of hordes of visitors descending on them; they believe that the risks outweigh the financial reward.

The Government's assessment is that rural tourism is losing 100 million a week in England alone.

Tony Blair's aim today, in a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce in London, was to persuade people not be deterred either by the restrictions, or by the nightly television fare of burning animals.

In the efforts to revive tourism, there are many discrepancies in the approach of local areas. Suffolk and North Lincolnshire have reopened foopaths to ramblers - but many other authorities have not. And the overall effect on business is becoming serious.

Environment Minister Michael
Environment Minister Michael believes Britain's image abroad can be saved
In his speech, Mr Blair recognised that the relief measures put forward so far - like rate holidays - are not a sufficient answer for businesses whose customers have dried up.

The Environment Minister Michael Meacher admitted that Britian's image abroad has been tarnished but he believes that a vigorous infomation campaign can turn the situation around.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
General Sir Michael Jackson
Dealing with FMD is very different to fighting a war
Environment Minister Michael Meacher
Britain's image abroad can be improved
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