18 January 2002

Clean F&Mbill of health

is possible within days

By FW reporters

BRITAIN could regain its international foot-and-mouth-free status at a meeting of veterinary experts early next week.

The Paris-based Internat- ional Office of Epizootics – the world organisation for animal health – is due to meet on Tuesday (Jan 22). The organisation oversees international animal health rules and is expected to decide whether to grant Britain full foot-and-mouth free status.

British enjoyed its first day in months officially free from foot-and-mouth disease after "at risk" status was lifted from Northumberland at midnight on Tuesday (Jan 15). But minister Lord Whitty urged caution until the whole of Britain had won back its disease-free status from international bodies.

NFU president Ben Gill said: "The lifting of the last "at risk" area will remove a long, dark shadow from the countryside. "This is the news that farmers across the UK have been waiting for. We all hope that this is truly the beginning of the end of this appalling chapter. But we must now go to the European and world authorities as soon as humanly possible to get our disease-free status back."

One British official described the case for restoring F&M-free status as compelling. "We have not had a case of foot-and-mouth since September, and 100% of the flocks in Cumbria have been tested. In other areas, such as Northumberland, North York- shire, the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, 80-90% have been tested."

More than 70 individuals and organisations have given evidence at Northumberlands public inquiry into foot-and-mouth which is due to end today (Fri, Jan 18).

Inquiry chairman Prof Michael Dower said it had been "blunted" by the army and government officials who refused to give evidence in person.

A final report from Devons F&M inquiry – held last October – will be launched on Monday (Jan 21) at County Hall, Exeter. It will include a 30-page response from DEFRA which had been invited to send representatives to the inquiry but declined to do so again preferring to reply to written questions. &#42

Devon inquiry chairman Prof Ian Mercer has said that the absence of DEFRA staff proved beneficial, although DEFRAs delay in responding to written questions meant the departments answers were not included in an interim report. The inquirys remit was to consider and recommend action for the future as well as conduct a post mortem on the Devon F&M outbreak.

Meat imports still a risk – see page 16.