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The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The whole industry is desperately hoping no more cases are confirmed"
 real 56k

The BBC's Mike McKay in Northumberland
"Burning of carcasses is just the first task"
 real 56k

Saturday, 24 February, 2001, 17:14 GMT
Mass livestock slaughter begins
A fire is prepared to burn the animal carcasses
A fire is prepared to burn the animal carcasses
The mass slaughter of thousands of pigs and cattle on farms across England has begun in an attempt to wipe out foot-and-mouth disease.

Chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore said animals were being slaughtered on the six confirmed outbreak sites and two nearby farms.

The movement of all livestock in Britain was banned for seven days from Friday evening in an effort to contain the disease.

Mr Scudamore said there had been no further confirmed outbreaks of the disease, calling it "a hopeful sign".

He said there would be slaughter at "contact farms", one near the suspected source of the outbreak in Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, and one in Kent, neither of which has been confirmed as having the disease.

Carcasses will be burned on the farms to minimise infection risks.

Maff moves in
Six confirmed cases: Two in Northumberland, four in Essex
Two contact sites: Ponteland, Northumberland and Headcorn, Kent
Animals at above locations being culled and burnt
Three sites inspected and cleared
Seven sites still under investigation
Richard Drummond, head of Veterinary Services for the northern region of Maff, said culling was already under way of 800 animals on two Northumberland farms.

At Burnside pig farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall, suspected to be the source of the outbreak, lorries carrying wood and coal have been entering the farm premises in preparation for burning the carcasses.

JCB diggers have been seen in a field on the farm digging holes where it is understood the animals will be burnt.

Mr Drummond said the incineration was likely to take place on Sunday.

He added that as the disease has a three-to-four day incubation period and "the longer we go without any fresh outbreaks the better".

Maff inspectors are visiting about 600 farms which sent livestock to the Essex slaughterhouse where the current outbreak was first spotted.

Earlier, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown refused to speculate on when the crisis might end, but said there were grounds for "cautious optimism".

Activities curbed
Monday's race meeting at Newcastle is cancelled
Camping and Caravaning Club cancels meets
RSPB reserves closed
Fox and deer hunting and hare coursing banned
Whipsnade Wild Animal Park and Woburn Safari Park are temporarily closed
Half of all city farms shut
Visitors to London Zoo are being asked to walk across disinfected matting
He said that the short incubation period of the disease meant any new cases should be apparent imminently.

He defended the government's tough approach to eradicating the disease.

Mr Brown has admitted supplies of meat will be disrupted but warned shoppers not to start panic buying.

The options of selective culling or the use of the UK and EU's reserve of vaccine, which had been examined, were not the way forward.

But Mr Scudamore said herds of wild boar and deer would be examined if they were close to an outbreak and culling would be an option in the event of infection.

He said vets were being drafted in from across the country to help track the disease. The international community has also offered assistance.

Maff officials will consider reports that pig swill could have been involved in triggering the outbreak.

Click here to see map of confirmed cases.

Large parts of the countryside are out of bounds to the public this weekend, several tourist attractions have imposed restrictions on visitors and one racecourse has called off a meeting.

Children living in affected areas in Northumberland have been told by council chiefs to stay at home until further notice.

Maff officials now say the highly contagious virus may have been spreading from a pig farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall for more than two weeks and could have been in the country for a month.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
Nick Brown: It is important that we don't spread the disease
Farm owner Bobby Waugh, 55, says his farm, which currently has 500 pigs, was given a clean bill of health by Maff inspectors on two recent visits.

But Mr Scudamore said he was satisfied veterinary officials had found no sign of the disease during a 24 January visit.

Supermarkets have reported that sales of meat have increased, but Sainsbury's and Asda told the Press Association there had been no panic buying.

There have been 16 suspected outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease since the alert began at a farm in Essex earlier this week.

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