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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
'Cautious' optimism over disease
testing sheep
Testing is eased for sheep in 'at risk' areas
Large areas of the UK have been declared foot-and-mouth free.

The disease-free status covers a wide area in central England as well as York and Selby in North Yorkshire.

The announcement comes as restrictions to prevent the disease are set to be relaxed to help farmers overcome "practical difficulties".

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is planning to introduce a new licence allowing unrestricted movement within a 20 kilometre radius of farms.

We are cautiously optimistic but it is too early to make any prediction about the end of the epidemic

Defra spokesman
Rules regarding compulsory blood tests prior to moving animals are also being eased as officials admit they are cautiously optimistic about the situation.

Defra announced the following areas are now classed as foot-and-mouth free: Worcestershire, Gloucester, south Gloucestershire, Bristol, Birmingham, Dudley, Solihull, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton and the city of York.

The department has split the region of North Yorkshire allowing the southern-most district, Selby, also to be classed foot-and-mouth free.

The new "Sole Occupancy Licences" are designed to help farmers with land and livestock spread across a relatively small area and who are currently unable to move their animals.

Farmers have been concerned that they would not be able to move animals from hills to valleys or to other farms to prevent them running out of feed during the colder months.

Testing eased

The licences, which must be approved by a Defra vet, come into effect on 8 October.

In a further relaxation of restrictions, sheep flocks in "at risk" counties no longer require blood tests before being moved.

Disease in the UK
Total: 2,030
New cases Sunday: 1
Slaughtered: 3,908,000
Awaiting slaughter: 4,000
Defra said this was in part due to bureaucratic considerations as, under present rules, a delay of seven to 12 weeks has been anticipated in issuing "autumn movement" licences.

Every county was given either "high risk", "at risk" or "disease free" status under Defra's autumn movement restrictions announced at the end of July and implemented two weeks ago.

Junior agriculture minister Lord Whitty said the changes would meet a "number of practical difficulties" and would reduce the demand for blood-testing.

Last month Defra announced the lifting of restrictions on almost 7,000 premises by getting rid of the Thirsk Biosecurity Infection Area and the Northern England Infection Area.

On guard

But a Defra spokesman said the epidemic was still a long way from being beaten.

"We are cautiously optimistic but it is too early to make any prediction about the end of the epidemic. We must not let down our guard."

There have been 2,030 outbreaks since the disease began, with 3,908,000 animals slaughtered.

The last outbreak was in Cumbria on Sunday.

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