8 March 2001
Collection centre plan under threat

By Alistair Driver

DIFFICULTIES detecting foot-and-mouth disease in sheep could force the Government to scrap plans for collection centres for animals going to slaughter.

The Ministry of Agriculture had been intending to expand the licence to slaughter scheme to incorporate collection centres next week.

This would let farmers take small numbers of sheep and cattle to markets from where they would go direct to abattoirs and be slaughtered immediately.

But government vets are concerned at the way the disease is now spreading.

They have revised estimates of how many farms will become infected after discovering the disease is going undetected for long periods in sheep.

Government chief vet Jim Scudamore said most recent cases have come to light in cattle, where the symptoms are very obvious.

But in the majority of these have caught foot-and-mouth from sheep in which the disease had not been apparent.

Until recently most confirmed infections could be traced back to auction markets before movement restrictions were imposed on 23 February.

But increasing evidence of localised spread from infected sheep is forcing the Government to review its strategy.

Farm minister Nick Brown said it is “theoretically possible” for animals to go through collection centres without spreading the disease.

But he said any decision on the future of centres would be taken “on the basis of risk assessment and veterinary advice”.

Mr Brown indicated that he is about to announce a scheme to allow pregnant livestock stuck in fields to be moved to farms under licence.

The minister acknowledged the welfare issues involved and said he hoped to have something to say on the matter at the beginning of next week.

But he admitted it was not clear what could be done to help livestock in infected areas where the risk from movements is much greater.

Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage