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Farmers' fears
British farmers give their accounts of the crisis.
 real 56k

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Vaccination could easily be used to buy more time"
 real 56k

Beeta Gminde, of the EU Agricultural Commission,
explains what a vaccination programme would involve
 real 28k

Ian Gardner of the NFU
"There is a whole chain of causation which needs to be looked at"
 real 28k

Prime Minister Tony Blair
"We are urgently looking at all possible options for the future"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 00:30 GMT 01:30 UK
Fresh measures to curb farm disease
pigs feeding
It is thought the disease spread from pigs to sheep
The Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has outlined proposals to control the "unprecedented" spread of foot-and-mouth disease across the country, including a ban on pigswill.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Brown said a farm in Northumberland where swill was fed to pigs was still the "likely" source of the devastating outbreak.

This is an unprecedented outbreak which has not yet reached its peak

Nick Brown
And he said he was minded to introduce legislation to require a 20-day "standstill period" for sheep, goats and cattle after they had been moved.

If the measure had been in place at the time of the outbreak, it would have "significantly slowed down" the spread of the disease, he said.

Mr Brown also confirmed that investigations were continuing into whether illegally imported meat could have brought the virus into the country.

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair hinted that the government could change policy and start vaccinating against the disease.

And Mr Brown said that while emergency vaccination was "no easy option", Britain was seeking advance European permission to use the measure so that it could be swiftly implemented if the decision was taken to vaccinate.

Crisis in the UK
Total confirmed cases 694
697,500 animals due for slaughter
423,000 already slaughtered
315,000 carcasses destroyed
Tory spokesman Tim Yeo said introducing vaccination would be an admission that the government's other policies had failed.

The number of cases around the UK has now reached 694, with 59 new outbreaks confirmed on Tuesday.

Epidemiological studies "were all clear that this is an unprecedented outbreak which has not yet reached its peak", Mr Brown told MPs.

Northern Ireland has been given the go-ahead to resume livestock exports to Europe after being granted regional status by the European Commission's Standing Veterinary Committee in Brussels.

However the European Union is expected to extend a ban on French exports of livestock, and has authorised the Netherlands to begin a "firewall" vaccination around infected areas.

Five outbreaks of the disease have been confirmed there, while two cases have been found in France and one in the Republic of Ireland.

Click here to see 1967 foot-and-mouth figures compared to 2001 figures.

In the UK, the Army is continuing the mass burial of sheep in Cumbria to help clear the huge backlog of slaughtered animals awaiting disposal.

The slaughter of a further 40,000 animals on Anglesey is taking place on Tuesday in an attempt to halt the spread of the disease there.

Officials are still investigating Burnside pig farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland - suspected to be the point from where the virus spread across the country.

Mr Brown said tests suggested that the disease had been incubating on the farm for "at least two and possibly up to three weeks".

Burnside farm, Heddon on the Wall.
Burnside farm is still under investigation
The virus rapidly spread from pigs to sheep where it was more difficult to trace, and undocumented sales at livestock markets further hampered efforts to track the disease, he said.

"By 23 February, when infection was confirmed at Heddon-on-the-Wall, infected animals had already spread through markets and dealers to Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway, Devon, Cheshire, Herefordshire and Northamptonshire," Mr Brown said.

Earlier, newspaper reports suggested that a container of illegal meat, destined for the restaurant trade had brought the virus into the country.

Mr Brown confirmed that the possibility was being investigated and said the government would ensure import controls were strongly enforced.

But the farmer at the centre of crisis said the government was creating a "smokescreen" by suggesting swill could be behind the current crisis.

Bobby Waugh, who runs Burnside farm in Heddon-on-the Wall, Northumberland, said: "I have been treating swill and feeding pigs for more than 25 years since new regulations were introduced in 1974 and have never had a problem.

"I honestly don't think I am at the heart of this."

Situation changing quickly

Only 1% of pigs in Britain are fed swill and a ban would affect fewer than 100 farmers.

Dead sheep awaiting burial
Up to half a million sheep will be buried
Earlier, the prime minister said there had been a significant shift in opinion about vaccination to combat the disease.

In an exclusive interview with BBC Radio 4's Farming Today he said: "As you track the disease and see how it spreads, things that may have seemed utterly unpalatable a short time ago, have to be on the agenda," he said.

Until now, the government has favoured a slaughter and burn policy, avoiding vaccination out of concerns that it would hit future export markets as the UK would lose its status as a "disease free" zone.

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See also:

27 Mar 01 | UK
Living in a 'war zone'
26 Mar 01 | UK
Mass animal burial begins
27 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Brown's statement in full
27 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Tracking foot-and-mouth disease
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