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The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Mass slaughter has become a part of everyday life"
 real 56k

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Washington
"America has not had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease since the late 1920s"
 real 28k

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, 20:28 GMT
Disease total tops 200
Unaffected cows in Cheshire
Maff remain convinced the outbreak is under control
The government has insisted the foot-and-mouth outbreak is under control despite the total number of UK cases reaching 205.

A government task force has been set up to help the farming industry rebuild in the wake of the disease.

The disease is under control. I am absolutely certain about that

Nick Brown
Agriculture Minister
But continental Europe's first confirmed case of the disease was identified at Mayenne in north-west France on Tuesday.

And on Tuesday night the US and Canada responded by temporarily banning the import of all animals and animal products from the EU.

New outbreaks confirmed in the UK on Tuesday included cases in Devon, Dumfries and Galloway, Cumbria and Gloucestershire.

The cases emerged as Tony Blair met leaders from farming, tourism and rural business at Downing Street in an effort to assess the economic impact of the outbreak.

'Under control'

The environment minister, Michael Meacher is to head a government taskforce which will try to kickstart the rural economy once the outbreak is over.

Mr Brown told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "The disease is under control. I am absolutely certain about that.

"I can't predict how much of it is incubating, particularly in the national sheep stock, nor can I predict precisely where it will emerge."

But the minister said the Rural Relief panel would "look at what help can be given by the government to those businesses which are not directly agricultural businesses, but which are affected by the movement restrictions".

Number of cases: 205
Livestock slaughtered:
121, 000
"There is no contradiction of interest between those who rely for their incomes on rural tourism and those who rely for their incomes on the livestock industry.

"We all have the same aim - to destroy the disease."

Tory leader William Hague called for a "slaughter on suspicion" policy, similar to that of 1967, so that livestock could be killed as soon as a vet suspected they were infected.

Army role

The army could play a bigger role in disposing of the carcasses of slaughtered animals, while Maff could call on the services of retired vets and veterinary students, Mr Hague said.

He also called for a "business rate holiday" for rural businesses hit by the outbreak, particularly those involved in tourism.

A 25m grant, taken from the budgets of the Rural Development Agencies, could provide 60,000 firms with six months' relief from rates, worth an average 400, he said.

The Conservatives called on the European Commission to introduce an immediate ban on French meat to complement the ban on livestock.

After talks with Tony Blair, Countryside Agency chairman Ewen Cameron voiced his support for the taskforce.

"It is essential to tackle the widespread economic damage which is happening in businesses far removed from the farm gate.

Further slaughter option

"We have supported Nick Brown ... but we are clear that the impact is potentially more serious for the wider rural economy."

The government is 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 of up to 500,000 animals.

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

Mr 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.

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See also:

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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