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Saturday, 25 August, 2001, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Fight to stop farm disease spreading
Tough new controls on the movement of livestock are to be imposed in Northumberland in an attempt to prevent further outbreaks of foot and mouth disease.

The two cases, discovered within 24 hours of each other, have led to fears of a new outbreak in the region, which had been free of the virus for about three months.

The two farmers were both reported to have bought animals from Hexham market, raising the fear that infected animals could also have been transferred to other farms.

Officials said on Saturday that they would be using "draconian" tactics to stamp out the disease in the area.

They are to introduce "blue box" regulation around the two farms - Stone Hall farm near Catton, and Taylor Burn Farm at Ninebanks near Allendale.

Disease facts
Total: 1,972
New cases on Saturday: 2
Slaughtered: 3,768,000
Awaiting slaughter: 11,000
Awaiting disposal: 3,000

The regulation, used to control the outbreak in Thirsk, north Yorkshire, earlier this year, designates an area in which all animal movements are banned, apart from those licensed to be sent directly to slaughter.

The box is about 7km≤, roughly from Slaley in the east, Blanchland in the south, to Haltwhistle in the west, and Hexham and Haydon Bridge in the north.

Officials are meeting with police to discuss the idea of 24-hour patrols on the roads to enforce the security zone.

And about 30 extra vets are to be drafted in to inspect an estimated 130 additional farms to which the disease may have spread, within a 10km radius of the premises.

Divisional veterinary manager Arthur Griffiths said the measures would make life difficult for farmers - but that they were vital.

"These may seem to be draconian measures but our intention is to make sure this flare-up is as short-lived as possible."

This is a severe blow to our hopes of achieving disease-free status for the north-east

John Bradbury, NDECC

Stonehall has 95 cattle and 800 sheep - most of these are expected to be destroyed over the weekend. The 66 cattle and 200 sheep at Hexham were destroyed on Friday.

The two farms are less than five miles apart. Officials said tests would confirm whether the disease was an old infection "grumbling on", or a new one brought in from outside.

If the latter was the case, it was carried to the farms in three possible ways - via livestock incubating the disease, vehicles, or humans.

'Bitter blow'

Experts said the outbreak was a "bitter blow", as movement restrictions were due to be lifted in the area within weeks.

But they said that a few rogue cases in the tail-end of the epidemic were to be expected.

There have also been one or two new daily cases in Cumbria over the last weeks.

John Bradbury, regional operations director at the Newcastle Disease Emergency Control Centre (NDECC) said the fresh outbreak mirrored the pattern of the last foot-and-mouth epidemic in 1967.

But he added: "This is a severe blow to our hopes of achieving disease-free status for the north-east and a big disappointment for farmers in the region, as well as vets and others who have been working so hard to eradicate the disease."

He added that neither recently-reopened footpaths nor grouse-shooting in the area was likely to have spread the disease.

Disease warning

A National Farmers' Union spokesman said: "This is a stark reminder to all livestock producers and people visiting farms to ensure that they are continuing to do everything possible to guard animals against risk."

Experts have already warned the disease could drag on for many months.

Epidemiologist Dr Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, London, warned this week that the crisis would be harder to control in the poorer weather of autumn and winter if the disease was not eradicated.

He also said foot-and-mouth disease had continued longer than expected because strict movement restrictions and hygiene rules had been breached by some farmers.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet in Northumberland
"They thought they'd escaped the infection"
Richard Ellison, regional director of the NFU
"We were looking forward to having the final restrictions lifted"
Arthur Griffiths, veterinary manager for DEFRA
"This disease is still out there"
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