15 June 2001

Army sent back to West Country as F&M recurs

By Alistair Driver

WEST Country farmers were bracing themselves for a repeat of the Settle foot-and-mouth cluster after a resurgence of the disease that could claim the lives of 10,000 animals.

The Army has been recalled to the area on the Somerset/Devon border to cope with the cull of thousands of animals after a cluster of F&M cases emerged near Tiverton, Devon.

The first outbreak was discovered in cattle at Crosses Farm, a beef and sheep unit, in Clayhanger, Devon, on Monday. Cases at three more nearby farms were soon discovered, one of which was just over the border in Somerset.

Others were quickly identified as dangerous contacts and all of the animals will have to be culled.

A Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said on Tuesday that already 9500 animals on infected and nearby premises had been earmarked for culling. Most are sheep and cattle.

All infected animals will go for rendering, initially at Exeter. Some dangerous contacts will be buried at a site near Holsworthy, Devon.

Devon NFU policy adviser Robert Dean said there were major concerns and he feared a repeat of the Settle outbreak, which has affected over 50 farms. "This is hugely worrying. This is an area where a lot local farmers have small farms very close to each other. Some of them have plots of land dotted around the place which increases the risk of spread."

The outbreaks have emerged after a relatively disease-free period for the region. Mr Dean said the origin was unknown but speculated that the virus may have been present in sheep on one of the farms for some time. He said the key to preventing a repeat of Settle was to trace potentially infected farms as quickly as possible.

Sixty military personnel were recalled to Okehampton Camp, on Dartmoor, to help arrange disposal of the animals. The Queens Dragoon Guards soldiers had only just left the area in the belief they had seen the back of the F&M crisis.

Devon was the first area of the country to have military assistance with the disease, and at one time 350 soldiers were involved.

The new pocket of the disease means there have now been over 170 cases in Devon.

Meanwhile, Tim Yeo, shadow DEFRA secretary, has accused the government of having something to hide about its handling of the F&M crisis. Mr Yeo has accused the government of asking farmers to sign the Official Secrets Act to stop them speaking out about MAFFs mistakes.

"The more we find out about the governments behaviour during this crisis, the more sinister it seems," said Mr Yeo. "What are they trying to hide?" &#42