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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
'Eco-terrorists' blamed for farms crisis
Sheep penned in by foot-and-mouth restrictions
The possible source of the disease prompted the row
Farmers' leader Ben Gill has angered environmentalists by suggesting that eco-terrorists deliberately triggered the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) president's comments came in response to a question at an Australian farmers' conference in Canberra.

He said: "There's no doubt foot-and-mouth spread to the UK illegally and, unfortunately, we cannot rule out eco-terrorism."

But the Friends of the Earth group (FoE) condemned Mr Gill's comments, and suggested that farmers "look closer to home before casting blame out".

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,603 - 6 on Monday
2,679,000 animals slaughtered
68,000 animals awaiting slaughter
37,000 carcasses awaiting disposal

The row came as the NFU announced a joint initiative, with the Ramblers' Association, to encourage local councils to ensure as many footpaths as possible are open for the next bank holiday.

Six more cases of foot-and-mouth were confirmed on Monday, bringing the disease total to 1,603.

In his speech to the Australian conference, Mr Gill speculated that eco-terrorists could be responsible for other foot-and-mouth outbreaks, but conceded that intensive farming practices could not be ruled out as a cause.

He added: "The last thing you would want to do is ease your quarantine rules in Australia. If you can find a way to further tighten them, then do it."

It may be that the NFU should start looking in their own cupboard before they start to look for scapegoats in the wider community

Pete Riley,
Friends of the Earth
An NFU spokeswoman defended Mr Gill's comments to the Australian conference, saying that he had simply been responding to a question from the audience.

"It's something that has to be considered. We don't know the answer yet, so there are a number of ways that foot-and-mouth could have infiltrated much of the livestock in this country."

FoE executive director Charles Secrett said Mr Gill had provided "no evidence whatsoever" in his comments about eco-radicals possibly causing the disease crisis.

Pete Riley, a real food campaigner for the FoE, told BBC News Online: "It may be that the NFU should start looking in their own cupboard before they start to look for scapegoats in the wider community."

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