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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"The consensus on how to fight foot and mouth well and truly broke down today"
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Saturday, 31 March, 2001, 19:54 GMT 20:54 UK
Burial to replace burning of cattle
Sheep are unloaded for burial in Cumbria
Increased burials will speed up the disposal of carcasses
All cattle less than five-years-old is to be buried rather than burned to speed up the disposal of foot-and-mouth slaughtered carcasses.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown announced the move as the result of new advice from the government's advisory committee on BSE.

As Downing Street said the Army was beginning to win the battle against the disease, the number of confirmed cases in the UK rose to 859 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair is still considering the government's policy on whether or not to use mass vaccinations on animals.

Crisis in the UK
Total confirmed cases 859
340,000 animals awaiting slaughter
570,000 already slaughtered
387,000 carcasses destroyed

The easing of the ban on burying cattle will help speed up the process of disposal - with more than 162,000 slaughtered carcasses waiting to be destroyed.

The decision came after a meeting of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) - a group of high-ranking experts who advise the government on BSE - or mad cow disease.

BSE risk ruled out

The committee presented its findings to ministers, who concluded the burial of animals less than five-years-old would not harm water supplies.

Mr Brown said: "Cattle born after the effective date of the Comprehensive Feed Ban, 1 August 1996, can be buried in Great Orton-style pits, rather than burned or rendered without constituting a risk of infection to the water table or surrounding land.

"Cattle born before this date must only be incinerated or rendered, not buried."

It was feared that burying cattle was hazardous because of the risk that they were infected with BSE.

Sheep carcasses unloaded into burial ground
162,000 carcasses are awaiting disposal
Independent research has estimated the risk of spreading BSE through burning cattle on funeral pyres is less than one in a million, according to the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (Maff).

Mr Brown said: "It means less fires and more burials. That will make the task easier."

On Saturday clashes took place between police and protesters in Wales fighting to stop preparations for the mass burial and burning of foot-and-mouth carcasses at an army range near Sennybridge.

The government has said it is winning the battle against foot and mouth disease.

Mr Brown added: "We are getting there but we are in for a long haul."

Disease contained

He claimed the disease has been contained, although admitted the government had real problems in dealing with areas of intense infectivity, but was surmounting them.

He said the target of slaughtering animals within 24 hours of discovery of the disease was being almost universally achieved.

NFU President Ben Gill said the announcement about the burial of cattle was very good news and hoped it would help bring the epidemic under control.

He said: "I'm not stupid enough to think we have solved it, it could spring up again, but I hope the combination of measures put in place are starting to improve things."

Ben Gill
Ben Gill: Vaccination only offers breathing space

Mr Gill praised the efforts of the Army who, he said, had made enormous strides in the past week and he believed they could achieve even more during the next seven days.

Downing Street confirmed the efforts of the Army boosted by almost 200 extra soldiers, were beginning to show signs of success.

Plans to introduce animal vaccination were put on hold yesterday as Mr Blair gave the mass slaughter policy more time to show signs of success.

But the National Farmers' Union has warned that vaccinations are not the solution.

They would also end Britain's disease-free status and could mean 1bn lost in meat export revenues.

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