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The BBC's Kevin Bocquet in Cumbria
"People are growing increasingly concerned about health risks"
 real 56k

The BBC's Robert Pigott
"Farmers have been accused of spreading foot-and-mouth accidentally"
 real 56k

David Hill, Devon NFU chairman
"There are people out there with lambs dying in puddles of water and in mud"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Farm chief backs sheep movement
farmer with lambs
Many farmers are concerned about the welfare of their lambs
A farmers' leader has said he would rather animals were moved in defiance of foot-and-mouth restrictions than allowed to suffer in unfit fields.

David Hill, chairman of Devon National Farmers' Union, said the welfare of animals was being put at risk by unnecessarily inflexible rules which prevented them from being moved short distances to fresh ground.

Crisis in the UK
Cases on Wednesday: 4
Total confirmed cases: 1,209
478,000 animals awaiting slaughter
888,000 animals have been slaughtered
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme, Mr Hill said: "There are people out there with lambs literally dying in puddles of water and in mud, and I cannot blame them for moving those 50 yards down the road on to a grassy field."

A senior veterinary officer agrees, urging Maff to review its policy to enable farmers more freedom to move their animals across their own land.

While the RSPCA has defended government restrictions, the charity is calling for improvements to the special licensing system which allows farmers to move livestock short distances for welfare reasons.

Mr Hill's comments follow government suggestions that farmers may have helped to spread the disease by moving sheep illegally.

He said he would rather see farmers break the law than let animals die.

'Profoundly distressing'

John Webster, professor of animal husbandry at the University of Bristol, said a distinction needed to be made between movements of livestock over roads from one field to another on a farm and movements across roads to other farms.

He said: "It is profoundly distressing. Maff needs to have a policy on this.

"Currently a farmer needs written permission to move sheep across a road on his own farm."

There have been suggestions some farmers have been trying to deliberately infect their livestock in order to claim the full compensation available.

The number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases rose by four to 1,209 on Wednesday.

There are people out there with lambs literally dying in puddles of water and in mud

David Hill
Major Lucy Giles, working at the Army's headquarters in Carlisle, told The Times newspaper: "We have been liaising with the police and they told us that there are concerns about this.

"They are investigating at least one farmer for intentionally infecting his animals. It is very disappointing."

But Nick Utting, a farmers' leader in Cumbria, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "To suggest that anybody in the country is looking for foot-and-mouth to arrive at their farm is utterly deplorable."

"In conditions where, in normal times, they would be in court for welfare - the RSPCA would have taken them there - I cannot condemn farmers for doing that.

Blair in Devon

"I'd rather they do that then go to court than let those animals suffer."

On Wednesday the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is travelling to Devon, one of the worst-affected areas, to meet farmers' leaders, army officers and representatives of the tourist industry.

The government has promised 500m to compensate farmers across the UK affected by the disease.

Mr Blair is expected to say: "There are some encouraging signs... but we cannot afford to let up for a minute. We will continue to work round the clock to contain and then eradicate foot-and-mouth."

Elsewhere efforts are being made to safeguard the survival of some of Britain's rarest breeds, which could die out if they contract the disease.

Genetic material from Herdwick and Rough Fell sheep is being taken for storage in an emergency gene bank, set up by York University.

Further burial pits are being dug, and in Cumbria engineers are constructing a pyre which can burn continuously to help clear the backlog of carcasses.

An emergency bill postponing local elections in England and Northern Ireland until 7 June has completed its passage through parliament.

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