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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 15:47 GMT
Farms on brink of disease 'all clear'
Animal movements remain restricted
Government officials monitoring foot-and-mouth disease are about to decide whether to lift the "at risk" status still covering parts of the north of England.

If they did, it would mean England would be declared free of the disease in time for the New Year.

This weekend marks the three-month milestone since the last reported case of foot-and-mouth in the country.

Farms in stretches of Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland are still described as "at risk" by officials from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Digger and pyre   PA
The outbreak brought ruin for many

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, said: "To pass the three-month landmark will be a tremendous morale boost to farmers up and down the country.

"It has been a long battle with the disease, but it looks very much like we have won.

"It brings a hope that we can start to move swiftly to regaining our disease-free status and break free of the costly straightjacket of disease restrictions."

The last case of foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed in Cumbria on September 30, eight months after the start of the outbreak, which was the most serious animal disease epidemic in the UK in modern times.

The farming community has been holding its breath ever since and even now there is no certainty the "at risk" status will be lifted.

Now is the time for farming to get back to fundamentals

Edward Greenwell, Country Land and Business Association

The Chief Veterinary Officer must first be satisfied that the country is clear of the disease and further blood testing will continue in badly hit areas.

The next step for many in the farming community is the relaxation of restrictions imposed at the start of the outbreak.

These are expected to come into force in mid-February, presuming there are no further cases of the disease.

Movement restrictions

They will include the re-opening of cattle markets with bio-security measures and the general licensing of movements rather than on an individual basis.

Some in the farming and livestock market communities are upset, however, that the 20-day standstill requirement will remain in place.

Pigs   BBC
Pigs spread the disease fast

This prevents the movement of all animals off a premises for 20 days after those animals susceptible to foot-and-mouth arrive.

Exports of most animal products are allowed from parts of the country declared foot-and-mouth free.

This will extend to the four remaining "at risk" areas when the status is lifted.

A Defra spokeswoman refused to speculate on the possible outcome of the results, but said a "massive effort" had been put in to completing the tests.

"The three months guideline is just one element of all this.

"Each region has its own peculiarities and the Chief Veterinary Officer has to take a view on each case.

"We are not going to pre-empt any decision," she said.

Foot-and-mouth was first confirmed by Government vets on February 20 this year and traced to a farm in Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland.

About 3.9 million animals were slaughtered for disease-control purposes and 2 million for welfare reasons such as dwindling feed and space.

See also:

29 Nov 01 | England
Final area loses infected status
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