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The BBC's Ben Brown
"Today the government relaxed rules on moving livestock around"
 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, 20:54 GMT 21:54 UK
Foot-and-mouth 'flattening out'
farmer with lambs
Farmers free to move animals to slaughterhouses
The statistical trend of the foot-and-mouth outbreak is finally flattening out and may be heading downward, says the government's chief scientific adviser.

Professor David King was cautiously optimistic about the downward trend of the disease's spread as it was announced that strict rules on animal movement in infected areas are to be eased.

The government announced the relaxing of restrictions which had been criticised for harming the welfare of animals.

Crisis in the UK
Cases on Wednesday: 27
Total confirmed cases: 1,233
478,000 animals awaiting slaughter
888,000 animals have been slaughtered

One farmers' leader had said he would rather see animals moved illegally than allow them to suffer in unfit fields, under new rules due to come into force on 23 April.

The government also announced a 15m aid package to help rural businesses struggling to survive the effects of foot-and-mouth.

The measures will be targeted at hardest-hit areas, such as Devon and Cumbria, and will be administered by regional development agencies.

Aid could take the form of direct cash support with grants of between 1,000 and 15,000 or by creating local regeneration schemes.

Cautious welcome

The number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases rose by 27 on Wednesday to 1,233.

But Prof King said the latest figures showed a steady decrease in the average number of new cases per day.

The average of 32 per day for the week ending 8 April compared to 43 per day the previous week, he said.


The flattening out of the epidemic has now been confirmed, and the data even shows a possible downward trend since the end of March

David King

"The flattening out of the epidemic has now been confirmed, and the data even shows a possible downward trend since the end of March," he told a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking after a meeting with farmers and tourism leaders in Devon, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he welcomed Prof King's view, but said the country should not get complacent.

"Yes it is true that a lot of the numbers have come off their peak, but as you can see here in Devon there is still an immense amount to do," he said.

Angry farmers

Farmers so far unaffected by foot-and-mouth, but based in infected areas, will be allowed to move animals again for slaughter.

Agriculture minister Baroness Hayman also announced plans to shrink the 10-kilometre exclusion zones around three of the earliest infected to allow farmers to resume normal business.

It will affect the areas around Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire, Northampton and west Somerset.

Healthy lamb in field
Farmers angry at 'illegal movement' claims

More than 2,000 farms in the three areas will benefit and it is hoped that eventually all restrictions would be completely lifted.

Baroness Hayman said the scheme to allow the movement of healthy animals from areas affected by foot-and-mouth would only be closed to farms within 3km of infected premises.

The scheme will also cover animals which need to be moved for welfare reasons.

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.

'Risk'

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

Meanwhile, the farming community has been expressing its anger over allegations that some farmers have been deliberately infecting their animals to claim compensation, as well as illegally moving livestock.


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

David Hill
NFU

Amid claims and counter claims from farming groups and the authorities, it has been confirmed that Trading Standards are investigating 350 cases of alleged illegal movement of animals.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said a report in The Times highlighting Army concerns over deliberate infections was "totally misleading".

Major Lucy Giles, part of the foot-and-mouth operation headquarters in Carlisle, was reported to have told the newspaper of "concerns" over the role some farmers may be playing in spreading the disease.

But an MoD spokesman said: "The Army has certainly not accused farmers of malpractice."



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