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The BBC's Jon Sopel
"The worry now is that there will be many more cases"
 real 56k

The BBC's Mark Mardell
"It has not really been a political issue"
 real 56k

National Farmers' Union President Ben Gill
"The Prime Minister has reassured us"
 real 28k

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
"We are dealing with a disease that is stilll incubating"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 14:23 GMT
Taskforce to tackle rural crisis
Sheep
Army soldiers could be used to help kill animals
A taskforce is being launched by the government to help rebuild the rural economy devastated by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The Rural Relief panel was announced as the number of outbreaks reaches 205 - with the government promising to make a decision "within the next 48 hours" on the fate of thousands of livestock about to give birth.

The options for pregnant ewes, who cannot be taken to lambing sheds because of movement bans, include leaving them where they are, allowing closely enforced transportation, or a mass slaughter.


There is no proposed cull of wildlife, nor do I have a unit of marksmen on standby

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
A Downing Street spokesman added that a "pick and mix" solution combining some or all of the options could be chosen.

Environment minister Michael Meacher will head the Rural Relief taskforce panel to assess the impact of the crisis which is costing the farming and tourism sectors tens of millions of pounds a week.

The plans were announced after Prime Minister Tony Blair held a series of meetings with ministers, farm leaders and members of the tourist industry amid growing concern about the widespread impact of the crisis.

The government insists the right measures are in place to stop the disease spreading, but the incubating virus means more outbreaks will continue to appear.

A Downing Street spokesman said everyone at the meeting backed the government's policy of "containment, slaughter, and quarantine", rejecting any plans for a mass vaccination programme.

Farmers prepare a fire
The burning of carcasses continues
But 22 new outbreaks were confirmed on Tuesday, including cases in Devon, Dumfries and Galloway, Cumbria and Gloucestershire.

French officials have also confirmed an outbreak in France - the first case in continental Europe.

The French agriculture ministry said the disease is believed to have spread to cows on a farm in north west France from imported British sheep on a neighbouring farm.

There is also growing speculation in the UK that soldiers could now be used to cull wild animals.

Foot-and-mouth
Number of cases: 205
Livestock slaughtered:
119, 994
Snipers and marksmen could be deployed to destroy animals such as pigs on open land in areas infected by the disease.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said Army vets were already being used to help the overstretched state veterinary service but there were no immediate plans for the Army to start killing animals.

Chief Veterinary Officer Jim Scudamore said there was a serious backlog of animals which needed to be killed and destroyed.

He said help from the Army would be considered only when the situation was too much for the resources of trained slaughtermen.

Public access

Ministers are to look at relaxing access to the countryside for the public in areas which are disease free, but only where it was "sensible to do so".

The Irish Government has maintained its high level criticism of Britain's handling of the crisis.

In an article for Tuesday's Independent newspaper Hugh Byrne, the Irish natural resources minister, accused Mr Brown of being "far too complacent".

He said Britain's neighbours were being exposed to the risk of foot-and-mouth because it had not adopted more stringent controls.

The Irish Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed that horses from the republic will not be allowed to travel to the Grand National.

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See also:

13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Disease source 'may not be traced'
13 Mar 01 | Europe
Foot-and-mouth spreads to France
13 Mar 01 | UK
Is Britain to blame?
12 Mar 01 | UK
A farmer's fears
12 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Fear of second NI outbreak
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