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The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The growth mirrors the pattern of the last big outbreak in 1967"
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The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"This is the reality of what's happening on Britain's farms"
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Michael Meacher, environment minister
"I think the reaction was initially excessive"
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Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 17:25 GMT
Lifeline for rural communities
Burning animals in Berkeley, Gloucestershire
Soldiers will not take a 'hands-on' role
The government has announced a series of measures to ease hardship in communities hit by foot-and-mouth as efforts to combat the disease are stepped up.

The measures come on the day that saw the biggest jump yet in the number of cases, with 45 more bringing the total across the UK to 394.

Crisis continues
394 confirmed cases
223,564 animals slaughtered
95,872 awaiting slaughter
159,874 carcasses destroyed
For the first time since the crisis began, the army is being used in Devon and Cumbria to help co-ordinate the destruction of diseased livestock, but not to carry out the slaughter or burning of animals.

With no end in sight, William Hague urged ministers to consider postponing local elections due on 3 May in those areas worst affected.

But the government has made clear that it does not intend to delay the vote.

Attractions re-open

The head of the rural task force Michael Meacher told the Commons measures were being put in place to revitalise rural tourism where safe.

Army spraying disinfectant during 1967 outbreak
Army took an active role in 1967 outbreak
He announced that affected small businesses in badly-hit rural areas would benefit from relief on business rates and temporary revaluations while customers stayed away.

Mr Meacher told the Commons his negotiations with major banks had shown there was a prospect of extended lines of credit and repayment holidays for rural customers hit by the foot-and-mouth crisis.

As part of the efforts to bring tourism back to rural areas, English Heritage is to re-open 200 of its properties from 1 April and that the National Trust would open another 150 properties before then.

Local authorities and the National Park authorities are considering which footpaths could be re-opened safely, and British Waterways are also re-opening many canals.

The countryside is facing meltdown and permanent loss of businesses and enterprises

Archie Norman
Mr Meacher said the government was considering raising central government contributions to rate relief for affected small businesses from 75% to 95%.

He said the 50% rate relief may be extended to some village pubs and garages while the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise had been instructed to be "very sympathetic" to businesses in trouble.

Shadow environment secretary Archie Norman warned: "The countryside is facing meltdown and permanent loss of businesses and enterprises."

Mr Norman called on Mr Meacher to consider extending the rate relief announced to a six-month 'holiday' from contributions and to delay the 1 April implementation of the climate change levy, which he said would cost agriculture 17m.

Army joins cull

The moves to tackle rural depression caused by foot-and-mouth came as the Army joined efforts to clear a backlog of slaughtered animals in Devon and Cumbria.

Soldiers from the Wiltshire-based 43rd Wessex Brigade
Soldiers from the 43rd Wessex Brigade will help in Devon
Up to 130 soldiers, military police and army logistics experts are supervising the disposal of culled animals in flocks infected by foot-and-mouth in Devon while another 80 are on their way to Cumbria.

The pre-emptive slaughter of sheep, including apparently healthy animals, is set to begin in south west Scotland.

Albert Pickles, 62, said he had lost everything before he died of a heart attack while waiting for news on whether his 150-strong herd would have to be slaughtered, his stepson Kevin revealed.

Ironically Maff vets later gave his cattle the all-clear.

Mr Pickles, who had run Brecks Farm in Clayton, Bradford, for 35 years, had been "frantic with worry" after the disease was confirmed at a neighbouring farm.

Case investigated

The French and UK Ministries of Agriculture are investigating reports that sheep exported from the UK to France three weeks before the first outbreak of foot-and-mouth later tested positive for the disease.

The sheep, which were bought by a dealer from farms in Wales, were expected through Dover and ended up on a farm in Normandy.

When they were slaughtered in early March several tested positive for antibodies of foot-and-mouth.

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See also:

20 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Rural package at a glance
18 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Elections still planned for May
19 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Widdecombe calls for census delay
20 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Tories attack over foot-and-mouth
20 Mar 01 | Business
UK economy to ride out farm crisis
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