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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 22:57 GMT
New foot-and-mouth case feared
Lesions have been found in the mouths of sheep
A suspected case of foot-and-mouth disease has been found at a farm in north Yorkshire.

Two sheep have been slaughtered at a farm in Hawnby near Thirsk, after suspect lesions were found in their mouths.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has said it is "cautiously optimistic" that samples from the sheep will test negative for the disease at the Institute of Animal Health laboratory at Pirbright in Surrey.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has banned livestock movements in a five-mile (8km) radius as a precaution.

Other conditions

If confirmed, it would be the first case of foot-and-mouth in the UK since September last year and was already the biggest scare since then.

The sheep were being examined by government vets, as part of an inspection visit required when farms restock.

The BBC's science correspondent Fergus Walsh says the vet who had examined the sheep was "quietly optimistic" that the lesions were not foot-and-mouth, but was sufficiently concerned to call for tests to make sure.

The lesions could have been caused by other conditions to which sheep are susceptible, he said.

But he added it would be "devastating" for the farming industry, tourism and the countryside if cases of the disease were found after so long.

NFU local group secretary Peter Edmonds told BBC News the swellings may also have been due to the sheep grazing during recent bad weather.

Rob Simpson, of the NFU, said the farmer involved was also optimistic.

Although all animals at the farm had been slaughtered during the previous foot-and-mouth outbreak, the disease had never been found there or at the farms from which the two sheep had been bought, he said.

Defra is tracing all the farms that have supplied sheep to the one in Hawnby.

We must take no chances with this very infectious disease

Elliott Morley
Animal welfare minister
Movement restrictions will also be imposed on these farms so they can be thoroughly inspected.

Animal Welfare Minister Elliot Morley said: "It is too early to say if this will be the first case of the disease since last September. The laboratory tests will need to be completed first."

The test results are expected to take between four and 96 hours.

If it is foot-and-mouth, the test results should be ready overnight.

If not, and the farm is clear, the results could take four days.

Our correspondent says the one crumb of comfort in the situation is that the sheep concerned were the first livestock on the farm since its animals were slaughtered as part of a contiguous cull in August last year.

If the disease is confirmed then it is almost certain the sheep would have picked it up on the farm - and as a result it is likely that the outbreak could have been contained, he says.

'Remain vigilant'

Mr Morley said: "We must take no chances with this very infectious disease."

"The department thoroughly investigates all suspect cases, precautionary measures are put in place and we stand ready to take immediate action if the tests show positive.

"This suspect case underlines the need for farmers and vets to remain vigilant during the restocking period and during the lambing season, and to maintain high standards of biosecurity."

The BBC's Steve Kingstone
"All the precautions are being put in place"
National Farmers' Union's Rob Simpson
"It is terrible news that more animals have been slaughtered"
Department of Agriculture spokesman John Williams
"It is a very disturbing development"
See also:

05 Mar 01 | UK
Foot-and-mouth factfile
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