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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Chief vet denies cull 'interference'
Animals awaiting their fate
The row centres on culling apparently healthy animals
The UK's chief vet has rejected suggestions from a farmers' group that animal culling has been paced to eliminate foot-and-mouth disease before the general election.

Michael Hart of the Small and Family Farms Alliance said tens of thousands of animals had been slaughtered "quite unnecessarily".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he thought this was "probably because of the political situation".

Chief vet Jim Scudamore has denied any political pressure has been applied and said his timescale was to eradicate foot-and-mouth "as fast as possible".

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
He declined to speculate on when the disease would be beaten.

He told the Today programme: "What we're aiming to do is eradicate foot-and-mouth and in order to do that we have to remove animals that are exposed to disease or who are incubating the disease."

He said the 30% of slaughtered animals whose laboratory results had proved to be negative could still have had the disease.

"What we're looking at is animals which appear healthy, but which in our estimation have been exposed to disease and may be incubating," he said.

Mr Scudamore added that if left alive, they could develop the disease and then spread it further.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has also rejected suggestions that political pressures had influenced how foot-and-mouth was being managed.

NFU deputy director general Ian Gardiner told BBC News Online that if political pressure had been applied, it would have needed involvement by all veterinary staff tackling the cull.

He said it would have been "the most successful conspiracy ever known in British history".

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