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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
UK 'winning disease battle'
Slaughtered cows in foot-and-mouth crisis
Positive sign: The backlog of carcasses is clearing
Prime Minister Tony Blair has said foot-and-mouth disease is being brought under control, but the outbreak is not yet over.

At a news conference in London Mr Blair paid tribute to the organisations responsible for combating the outbreak, but warned farmers not to drop their guard against the disease.

The confident assessment of the situation is expected to pave the way for a general election on 7 June.

The cost of foot-and-mouth
Cost to farmers 1bn
Compensation 600m
Cost to tourism 5bn
But the timing of the announcement has brought criticism from people in the farming and tourism industries who say the impact of the crisis continues.

The Conservatives said anti-disease measures should only be relaxed if the situation was genuinely improving, not because "there may be an election coming up".

Mr Blair was flanked by Chief Scientific Adviser Professor David King and Chief Vet Jim Scudamore at the Downing Street conference.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown later told the House of Commons the government could remain optimistic about the future course of the epidemic, but sporadic outbreaks would continue.

Mr Blair said: "Because of the huge effort we are getting the disease under control.

"We have all but completely cleared the backlog of animals waiting to be culled. But it is not over yet.

"We cannot in any way be complacent. It is essential that we remain vigilant."

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,547 - 9 on Thursday
2,411,000 animals have been slaughtered
107,000 animals awaiting slaughter
Mr Blair said dealing with the unpredictable and rampant disease was far more complicated than tackling the virus in 1967.

But the latest phase of the crisis means 16,000 farms are benefiting from the lifting of movement restrictions. More could follow, but only in areas where there was no longer a threat of spreading foot-and-mouth.

There have now been 1,547 confirmed cases of foot-and-mouth and 107,000 animals are awaiting slaughter.

Last pyres

But Mr Brown said there was no longer any backlog of animals awaiting disposal anywhere in Britain - with the last pyre of carcasses being lit on Thursday.

The number of new daily cases of the disease continues to fall, currently averaging about 8 per day.

Among Thursday's cases was a third in Somerset, which had been declared disease free after an initial outbreak.

The latest case involves cattle in a field adjacent to the site of the county's second outbreak, which was confirmed on Wednesday.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair said the end of the outbreak was in sight
Mr Brown said 100m in compensation had been paid to farmers for slaughtered animals, a figure which could rise to 600m.

The government is working on other recovery packages and ways of getting the affected industries back on their feet, he said.

The Conservatives are suspicious about the timing of the announcement with elections expected to be held in June.

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said he welcomed improvement if it was genuine.

"We must not relax policy until it is safe to do so merely because there may be an election coming up," he said.

The war is not over, but what is clear is that a general election is only weeks away

David Davies
Tory chief whip at the Welsh Assembly David Davies said the battle was certainly not over.

"It is wrong of Tony Blair to claim to have won the fight against foot-and-mouth when there are still new cases being confirmed, when farmers' lives are still being ruined and dead animals are still lying on farms throughout the country," he said.

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The prime minister said that the worst is over"
The BBC's Ben Brown
on the impact of foot-and-mouth on British tourism
The BBC's Tom Heap
"They're not cooking the books, but there is some oddity here"
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
"The Prime Minister is right to say we're on the home straight"






See also:

03 May 01 | UK Politics
02 May 01 | UK
02 May 01 | Science/Nature
03 May 01 | Entertainment
03 May 01 | UK Education
03 May 01 | UK
03 May 01 | Science/Nature
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