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Thursday, 26 April, 2001, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Slaughter policy to be relaxed
Officials at a farm where a cull is about to take place
The culls are due to be scaled down "in some areas"
The government is expected to announce a major relaxation of its slaughter policy following signs that foot-and-mouth disease is on the wane.

The change of thinking emerged unexpectedly on Wednesday night when Downing Street announced that Phoenix, the week-old calf which survived a cull on a Devon farm, had won a reprieve.

The revised policy is expected to relate to the so-called "firebreak" cull - slaughtering healthy animals on farms neighbouring those with foot-and-mouth outbreaks.

The new policy follows an announcement by the government's chief scientist that there should be hardly any new cases of foot-and-mouth disease by 7 June - thought to be the likely date for a general election.

In the Commons on Thursday, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown will tell MPs in a statement that for the last seven-day period, the total number of new cases fell below 100 for the first time in eight weeks.
Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,480 - 18 on Wednesday
2,061,000 animals have been slaughtered
178,000 animals awaiting slaughter

At the same time, Mr Brown will tell MPs the backlog of carcasses to be disposed of has been eliminated everywhere except Devon, as a result of a sharp increase in the disposal rate.

But the Conservatives called on the government for an urgent explanation of the scientific basis for revising the slaughter policy.

"A sudden change in policy will need to be fully explained if confidence in the industry and among the public about the government's determination to eradicate foot-and-mouth disease is to be maintained," said shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo.

National Farmers' Union's regional director Anthony Gibson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he welcomed any refining of the culling policy, which he said had been a very "blunt instrument".

Phoenix rises

He acknowledged that it had worked, but at a very high cost.

"There have been a lot of cattle slaughtered that needn't have been, that have never been exposed to foot-and-mouth," he said.

"They have been slaughtered because of an accident of topography. Phoenix is a very good case in point. That calf is on a farm three miles away from the outbreak farm."

There have been a lot of cattle slaughtered that needn't have been

Anthony Gibson
The saved calf Phoenix was discovered lying next to its dead mother, which had been slaughtered as part of a contiguous cull five days previously at 35-acre Clarence Farm in Membury, Devon.

Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture (Maff) arrived at the farm on Wednesday to remove the carcasses of the slaughtered animals and to kill Phoenix.

But Phoenix's owner Michaela Board, 35, who runs the farm with her husband, Philip, 42, asked for the calf to be spared.

Mr Board's brother, 59-year-old Fred Board, told BBC Breakfast News the calf's reprieve was marvellous.

"She will be able to have a good life here now and we hope to breed her eventually," he said.

'Not complacent'

Meanwhile health experts have confirmed they are investigating three separate suspected human cases of the disease.

On Thursday Mr Brown is due to meet a Trades Union Congress (TUC) delegation, which is calling for a risk assessment for workers involved in the cull and disposal of animals in light of the three cases.

Despite the cull relaxation, Mr Blair, who is travelling to Cumbria on Thursday, will warn there is no room for complacency and the government will not let its guard drop.

Downing Street said the prime minister wanted to use his visit to see the changes since his last trip in March.

As well as meeting farmers and officials, he will also pay tribute to Brigadier Alexander Birtwistle who has led the Army's effort in the region and whose command finally ends on Friday.

The BBC's Ben Brown
"The government deny they changed policy because of Phoenix"
Fred Board, Farmer and owner of Phoenix the calf
"I am over the moon"
Tim Yeo, Conservative Agriculture spokesman
"Any change in policy should be based on sound science not public emotion"
The BBC's Sue Nelson
"Vets and farmers have been arguing for weeks against the policy"






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