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The BBC's Christine Stewart
"While the results of tests are being awaited there is concern for public safety"
 real 56k

Agricuture Minister, Nick Brown
"I do not accept that the proper procedures were not gone through"
 real 28k

Thomas Everard, Farmer
"I think that they were completely incompetent, staggeringly so, criminally so"
 real 28k

Saturday, 26 May, 2001, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Farm cover-up denied
Protesters in Tow Law, County Durham
Protesters fear the health hazards of burying carcasses
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has denied that the government has deliberately concealed the true number of foot-and-mouth cases in the run-up to the election.

Some farmers have suggested that information from Ministry of Agriculture has been unreliable.

But Mr Brown said the number of new infected premises was coming down by about a half every fortnight - and rejected suggestions that the figures were being "massaged".

However, another new case of foot-and-mouth has been confirmed at Settle, in the Yorkshire dales, bringing the total number in the area to 20.

Livestock are being slaughtered at Lodge farm after the case was confirmed on Saturday.

Meanwhile, people living near a foot-and-mouth burial pit in County Durham are stepping up their protest over possible health risks from the site.

I absolutely refute the suggestion that civil servants are somehow fiddling the figures

Nick Brown
Agriculture Minister
Residents of Tow Law are worried about toxins escaping from the Inkerman site, which is close to two primary schools.

Asked about the disease figures, Mr Brown told BBC News: "In my time as minister I have only given one instruction to civil servants about the statistics that we are collecting, and that was to put the figures into the public domain.

"They are compiled by independent civil servants and every single animal purchased by the government for disease control reasons is paid for, and the money has to be accounted for.

"I absolutely refute the suggestion that civil servants are somehow fiddling the figures."

Footpaths to open

The official number of foot-and-mouth cases now stands at 1,641, although reports suggest the true number of infected farms is almost double this figure.

The Daily Telegraph says about 1,500 more cases exist among animals slaughtered as part of contiguous culls or "dangerous contacts".

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,641 - One new case on Saturday
3,03,000 animals slaughtered
73,000 animals awaiting slaughter
15,000 carcasses awaiting disposal
This, the paper quotes Maff as saying, is a "significant" number which justifies the scale of the cull in which more than three million animals have been killed.

At Tow Law, in County Durham, about 300 protesters were met by a cordon of 30 police officers at the entrance to the pit, which is earmarked to take about 200,000 slaughtered animals.

Protest organiser Sylvia Goodhall said: "We will demonstrate for as long as it takes. The people of Tow Law and neighbouring villages will not tolerate this monstrosity on our doorstep."

A Maff spokesman said that "every effort" was being taken to minimise the impact of the site, adding: "We fully appreciate the concern of the people of Tow Law."

Meanwhile, local authorities in England are preparing to re-open most footpaths outside of foot-and-mouth protection zones over the bank holiday weekend.

Nearly 500 National Trust sites which have been closed to the public will also be opened.

Health hazards

The government has warned of other potential health hazards posed by the disposal of foot-and-mouth carcasses.

The Food Standards Authority said on Friday that whole milk could possibly become contaminated with cancer-causing dioxins from pyres of slaughtered animals.

milking machine
Milk from dozens of farms has been tested
And a leading scientist warned there may be a danger of BSE getting into water supplies in areas surrounding foot-and-mouth burial sites.

The risks of either of these eventualities is extremely slight, scientists say, but the news will have done little to allay health fears.

On Friday, Professor Peter Smith, a government advisor on BSE and vCJD, warned that BSE may enter drinking water if cattle older than five years were buried.

He said that the risk of the transmission of the disease to humans could be increased dramatically - to one in 200,000 - if contaminated water was drunk.

The Food Standards Agency is continuing to test milk from farms after fears that dioxins released by the burning animals could re-enter the food chain.

However, it has stressed that bulk-bought milk, such as that sold by supermarkets and dairies, carries no additional risk to consumers.

Although final results have not yet been published, initial conclusions suggested elevated levels in farms within two kilometres of the pyres, which could lead to a slight increase in the "lifetime exposure" of drinkers to dioxins.

John Krebbs, director of the Food Standards Agency, advised anyone worried about dioxins to drink semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, or dilute their untreated farm milk with supermarket or dairy milk.


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