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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK
Fears over farm disease contact
Scotland has been free of the disease for three months
Livestock at seven farms in the Scottish Borders are being kept under close observation for signs of foot-and-mouth disease after a possible dangerous contact with an infected farm in north-east England.

Thousands of sheep and cattle are being slaughtered in Northumberland where there have been 14 farms infected in the latest outbreak.

A farmer from the infected area visited Scottish farms within the past two weeks, according to a Scottish Borders Council spokesman.

The fresh outbreak around Hexham in Northumberland was greeted with dismay north of the Border, where Scottish farmers hope to regain their export licences within days.

Vet and lamb
Tests are being carried out
Scotland will have been free of foot-and-mouth for three months, if no new cases are detected by Thursday, allowing it to apply for access to overseas markets.

If the outbreak spreads north of the border, Scottish farmers will have to wait at least another three months for export licences.

Scottish Borders Council confirmed that the Joint Co-ordination Team, based near Galashiels, has placed precautionary restrictions on seven farms which were reported to have had "dangerous contact" with a farm affected by the Hexham outbreak.

A spokesman for the council said: "The farms were visited by a travelling farmer so there's no particular cause for concern in that they are not all in one place.

"What we now have to do is trace any other farm he may have visited at the time. It's believed he was in the area on the 20th (August) and the 23rd (August)."

Monitoring the situation

The team placed the D-restrictions on four farms on Monday evening.

These have been named as Boon farm and Dod farm, both in Lauder, Falahill in Heriot and Holylee Farm in Walkerburn.

Restrictions on three further farms were announced on Tuesday, though these premises have not yet been named.

Animal movements on and off the farms are being halted as tests are carried out.

Andrew Voas, divisional veterinary manager, said the team had been closely monitoring the situation around Hexham since the first outbreak was confirmed to them last Friday.

Scottish NFU leader Jim Walker
Jim Walker: "Timely reminder"
He said it had been agreed that, at least for the time being, there would be no pre-emptive slaughter of stock on these farms.

He said: "There is no suggestion that precautionary restrictions need to be extended to neighbouring farms."

And he added that vets would continue to monitor the situation at the farms very closely.

President of the National Farmers Union in Scotland, Jim Walker, said farmers must remain vigilant.

He said: "It's just a very timely reminder to farmers, at a time of year with 3.6m animals to move between now and Christmas, that we will be very lucky to get through the next few weeks without any more problems like this.

There's no question that in the last couple of months in Scotland people have started to drop their guard.

Scottish NFU leader Jim Walker
"It's up to every farmer to protect himself, protect his neighbours and protect the whole industry because if this goes wrong we are in deep trouble."

Mr Walker added: "There's no question that in the last couple of months in Scotland people have started to drop their guard; they've started to relax, including our own farm here, where the disinfectant mats are gone.

"At a time of year when movements have become so much more common because of the number of stock being traded we really are putting ourselves at a severe risk."

He said the latest development would set back Scotland's attempt to convince the European Commission that the country is free from the disease.

Mr Walker said: "They still regard Great Britain as a country. In Scotland we are trying to make a case separately but there's no question that the disease is just 20 miles over the Border."

Rural affairs correspondent Ken Rundle
"Farmers have been visiting other farmerrs and that is always inherent with danger."
Liberal Democrat MSP George Lyon
"It shows outbreaks south of the border pose a real threat to our foot-and-mouth free status."
Borders hill farmer Bob Howett
"Everybody is very anxious."
Scottish NFU leader Jim Walker
"We will be very lucky to get through the next few months without problems like this."
BBC Scotland's Willie Johnstone
"The defences were going back up in the Borders today"
See also:

27 Aug 01 | Scotland
Vigilance call for Scottish farmers
20 Aug 01 | UK
Cattle back on sale
20 Aug 01 | UK
Six months of farm misery
28 Jul 01 | Scotland
Scotland 'free' of foot-and-mouth
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