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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 10:08 GMT
Farmers hail foot-and-mouth 'victory'
Field of sheep
The outbreak has cost UK farming more than 2bn
Britain has been officially declared free of foot-and-mouth almost 11 months after the first case of the disease was found, in a decision farmers say gives new hope for their industry's future.

There has been no new outbreak for three months in Northumberland - the county where the disease was initially traced - and tests on sheep there have proved negative.

It will still be several weeks before restrictions on livestock farmers can be lifted - and perhaps months before Britain can trade fully with the rest of the world.

The National Farmers' Union said the lifting of restrictions would remove a "long, dark shadow" from the countryside after 11 months of hell.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Confirmed cases: 2,030
Cattle slaughtered: 595,000
Sheep slaughtered: 3,306,000
Pigs slaughtered: 142,000
Other animals slaughtered: 4,000
Total animals culled: 4,047,000
Countryside Agency puts cost to UK farming at up to 2.4bn
Cost to tourism estimated at between 2bn and 3bn
Many farmers are critical of the government's handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis and say far more should have been done to stop the disease spreading.

There were more than 2,000 cases in Britain in the 2001 outbreak and more than four million animals have been culled. The cost to farming - leaving aside any damage to tourism - stands at more than 2bn.

A spokesman for the organisation that sets the worldwide guidelines on animal diseases says a final decision on Britain's foot-and-mouth free status could be made as early as next week.

Speaking on Radio 4's Farming Today programme, Dr Jim Pearson from the OIE (Office International Des Epizooties) says the organisation's Foot-and-Mouth Commission is meeting next week.

If the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) makes an application in time, this could be considered favourably by the commission.

OIE disease-free status would allow Britain to export to the rest of the world. At present, only limited exports are allowed within the EU.

'Step forward'

Dougie Watkins, a sheep and cattle farmer from Berwick-Upon-Tweed in Northumberland, said of the all-clear: "Everybody will be just issuing a huge sigh of relief."

Mr Watkins' livestock were destroyed last April but he said he was well on his way to rebuilding his business.

But he said the government had many lessons to learn from the outbreak, and added: "The great worry is that the fundamentals of how it started aren't known."

Earlier on Monday, rural affairs minister Lord Whitty told the House of Lords of Northumberland's change in status, describing it as "a good news announcement".

The move was "a major step forward" but was "not the end of the story or the end of the risk of the disease", he said.

"It will be some time, probably months, before our international partners restore our trading status in the European Union and beyond as a fully foot-and-mouth free state," Lord Whitty added.

Northumberland has been one of the areas worst affected by foot-and-mouth, with a total of 234,117 animals culled in the county since the outbreak began last year.

The county had one of the first confirmed cases at Heddon-on-the-Wall in February last year.

Controversial legislation

Lord Whitty was speaking as the second reading began of the Animal Health Bill, which aims to strengthen protection against future outbreaks of foot-and-mouth and other infectious diseases.

The controversial legislation would give government vets the power to enter a farm and cull all its animals and force farmers to help in the cull, with little right of appeal.

It was branded a "panic measure" and a "bad bill" by the opposition.

Meanwhile, it has been claimed that an inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Northumberland has been weakened by the absence of army and government officials.

Northumberland County Council is hosting a five-day investigation into the spread of the virus and how rural communities were affected.

The inquiry is being led by Professor Michael Dower, a former director general of the Countryside Commission and a lecturer in European rural development at the University of Gloucestershire.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Agriculture Minister Elliot Morley
"This is very good news for farmers"
NE England Chamber of Commerce's Terry Robson
"We are looking for sustained assistance"
UK Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett
"It is in the interests of everybody in the UK to get the answers"

Talking PointFORUM
Farm expert
The end of foot-and-mouth in UK?


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15 Jan 02 | UK
14 Jan 02 | UK Politics
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