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The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"The planned cull is splitting the farming community"
 real 56k

Cumbria Police, Superintendent Brian Horn
"We are trying to resolve the situation as peacefully as possible"
 real 28k

North Cumbria NFU Secretary, Nick Utting
"We are not going to encourage our members to break the law"
 real 28k

Saturday, 17 March, 2001, 11:39 GMT
Pressure mounts over animal cull
Sheep in field
The government will explain why cull is necessary
The government is under mounting pressure to abandon plans for a mass cull of livestock in areas worst hit by foot-and-mouth disease.

The slaughter of up to 300,000 pigs and sheep that are kept close to infected areas in Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway has been condemned by farmers and the RSPCA.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said the cull of healthy animals would not go ahead until the government's chief vet had visited farmers to explain why it was necessary.

If we don't cull them all out now we risk this whole disease outbreak going on for a longer time and worse we risk the disease spreading

Nick Brown
"Ultimately the government has overriding power to control and outbreak of disease in animals but I don't want to go about this in a heavy handed way," he said.

"The responsibility on government is to explain ourselves and if we haven't explained ourselves well, to have another go at it."

The government is considering proposals such as emergency business tax relief and a hardship fund, to help rural tourism businesses hit by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

But Culture Secretary Chris Smith warned on Saturday that there would be no "instant cheque book".

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
Nick Brown has apologised for any confusion caused to farmers
The government believes the mass slaughter is vital to eradicate those animals possibly infected with foot-and-mouth before they can pass it on.

Speaking on BBC Two's Newsnight, Mr Brown said that while "draconian measures" on livestock movement had kept the disease under control, it was still not known how much latent infection existed and where exactly it was.

He apologised to farmers for any "misunderstandings" which had taken place about the cull plans in recent days, but also called on their support to stamp out the virus.

"We don't know which sheep are incubating the disease," he said.

"If we don't cull them all out now we risk this whole disease outbreak going on for a longer time and worse we risk the disease spreading.

"That is why these very harsh measures are necessary."

NFU split

The proposal to extend the slaughter has caused a split in the National Farmers' Union.

While the president, Ben Gill, supports the idea, members in Cumbria - led by Nick Utting - say they will not.

Police in the county have increased patrols and confiscated firearms from a farmer who allegedly threatened ministry officials who came to cull his livestock.

One group - Farmers For Action - accused ministers of mishandling the crisis.

Spokesman David Handley said there had to be scientific evidence that this cull would stop the outbreak.

"What is the point in killing ordinary healthy stock of one species and leaving another species alive on the farm?"

John Thorley of the National Sheep Association said farmers feared healthy animals which were an essential part of the breeding stock could be destroyed.

He suggested to Mr Brown on Newsnight that such animals be blood-tested and allowed to live if they were free of infection.

New cases

Nine new cases of foot-and-mouth were confirmed by 1300 GMT Saturday bringing the total to 282, including one case in Northern Ireland.

Mr Brown pledged money to help rural communities recover from the crisis.

"We will not abandon them, we intend to help the industry recover afterwards and that means financial assistance from the government," he said.

Mr Brown said he would also be discussing the knock-on effects of the disease on non-agricultural industries, including tourism.

Tourism chiefs have called for 5m extra promotional funding for the British Tourist Authority to counter fears abroad about the outbreak, which has triggered a downturn in visits to Britain.

But the agriculture minister stressed that people were not being told to stay away from the countryside, simply to keep away from farm livestock.

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See also:

17 Mar 01 | UK
Tourism aid 'must wait'
16 Mar 01 | Scotland
Bank donates 1m to aid farmers
16 Mar 01 | UK
Troubled waters in Lakeland
16 Mar 01 | Scotland
Farmer's grief at slaughter plans
14 Mar 01 | Europe
EU attacks disease blockades
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