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The BBC's Andrew Clark
"The destruction of livestock continues across Britain"
 real 56k

Friday, 23 March, 2001, 23:01 GMT
Farm crisis 'out of control'
Uninfected sheep from a farm in Dumfries, Scotland, are culled
A government report predicts 4,000 cases by June
The foot-and-mouth crisis is now out of control and half the UK's livestock may have to be slaughtered, the government's chief scientific adviser had said.

Professor David King's warning comes after the publication of a government report that says Britain is heading for a "very large epidemic" of foot-and-mouth, with a projected 4,000 cases by June.

But his comments contradict advice from the Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, who insists the disease is under control.

In the worst-case scenario, out of control means that we might even lose 50% of the livestock of Great Britain

Professor David King
Meanwhile the French authorities have confirmed the country's second outbreak at a farm east of Paris. Some 100 cows and 200 sheep were slaughtered at the infected site in Mitry-Mory in the Seine-et-Marne region.

In the UK another 34 outbreaks have been identified, bringing the total of confirmed cases in the country to 514. The number of UK animals condemned for slaughter stands at 435,000.

Professor King told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "Today's models show that if we proceed as we are at the moment, the epidemic is out of control.

Slaughter delays

"In the worst-case scenario, out of control means that we might even lose 50% of the livestock of Great Britain."

He said: "The operational team has been asked by the prime minister to produce the reduction of the (culling) time to 24 hours and then introduce a firewall cull.

"What is clear is that if we speed that up to 24 hours then the epidemic can be brought under control very effectively."

Vet checks a lamb at a farm in Cumbria
An agricultural expert checks lambs for signs of the disease
The government report compiled for the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) said there was a need for "further drastic action", otherwise foot-and-mouth "will become established in Britain".

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has said the government is undecided on whether to extend nationwide the pre-emptive cull of healthy animals within two miles of infected farms or opt for vaccination.

The government report's findings come as European leaders have been meeting at the EU Summit in Stockholm to discuss the best ways of containing the spread of the disease.

'Worse than 1967'

Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo told BBC Radio 4's World at One that Conservatives had been calling for the past fortnight "to cut the delay between suspicion of foot-and-mouth disease and slaughter".

He said: "That should be done by attaching a team of slaughtermen to every vet that goes out to inspect a suspected case."

The UK crisis
514 confirmed cases - 34 on Friday
272,824 animals slaughtered
162,667 awaiting slaughter
193,284 carcasses destroyed
One of the official report authors, Professor Mark Woolhouse from the University of Edinburgh, said the disease was clearly "out of control" and other options needed to be considered to tackle it.

The scale of the outbreak is already poised to exceed that of 1967, but animal health experts who helped compile the report said the two outbreaks were "quite different".

This time, they warned, more of the UK was infected, with the spread of the disease by sheep a cause of major concern.

Vaccination 'unworkable'

The European Union food safety commissioner, David Byrne, has called for every farm animal in Europe to be tagged to prevent a repeat of the outbreak.

Chief European Union vets in Brussels on Friday agreed to limit emergency vaccination to fight the spread of the disease.

The vets overturned a 15-year-old policy by agreeing that the Netherlands could inoculate animals around infected farms awaiting slaughter.

UK farm facts
240,000 holdings
169,000 full-time farmers
183,000 part-time farmers

They ruled out the widespread use of vaccines in any part of the EU to combat foot-and-mouth.

Professor David Harvey, of Newcastle University's Centre for Rural Economy has warned that vaccination of animals against the disease in the UK would be either unworkable or a very costly option compared with slaughter.

He also argued that mass vaccination as a defence against the virus would mean that the UK would never be free of foot-and-mouth.

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See also:

22 Mar 01 | Scotland
Slaughter moves to Dumfriesshire
02 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Moves to stop spread of disease
23 Mar 01 | Education
Disease crisis hits exams
23 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Ten days for election decision - Blair
23 Mar 01 | Europe
EU approves limited vaccination
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