7 September 2001

F&Mresurgence prompts

strong DEFRAmeasures

By FW reporters

MINISTERS are preparing to sanction further Draconian measures in a desperate bid to prevent the full-scale resurgence of foot-and-mouth disease.

Officials are worried that the number of F&M cases around Northumberland will more than double before the disease is brought under control, FARMERS WEEKLY has learned. Epidemiologists grimly predict that 50 cases could be confirmed within the cluster before F&M is eradicated, said a government source.

Two new cases were confirmed near Hexham on Wed (Sept 5), bringing to 19 the number of outbreaks in the area. Thousands of livestock on more than 100 farms have been slaughtered. A further 390 farms are under restriction. But experts are no nearer tracing the source of the outbreak in the region.

Officials have already banned all animal movements within a 6100-square-mile "red box" area covering Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire. Divisional veterinary manager Arthur Griffiths said existing movement licences would be revoked and no new licences issued for at least 21 days.

A leaked memo obtained by FARMERS WEEKLY reveals that similar measures are being considered for sheep as far away as Devon and Powys. The memo – a draft Emergency Instruction issued by the governments Animal Welfare Veterinary Team – warns that the "risk of hidden disease is greater in those counties which have had a heavy weight of infection".

The revelation will anger many farmers who believe inadequate clean-up operations threaten to thwart efforts to bring F&M under control. After the last major outbreak in 1967, 18 farms were re-infected despite being disinfected prior to restocking. This time around, thousands of farms have still not been fully cleaned months after going down with the disease.

Cleansing and disinfection has been completed on only 2600 farms out of 9000 where livestock were slaughtered, claims the NFU. Just 15 miles away from the Northumberland cluster, cleaning operations at the pig farm believed to have triggered the crisis back in February are on hold. Farmer Bobby Waugh said: "Leaving the farm in this state must be a disease risk."

Thomas Lord, whose farm near Settle in North Yorks was culled out on May 11, said his hopes of restocking this autumn so he could sell animals next year have been dashed. "I dont know when I can restart cleaning or if the government is going to pay. Lots of other farmers are in the same position."

The resurgence of the disease is particularly worrying because Northumberland is home to 10% of the national beef suckler herd. The next few weeks will be absolutely crucial for the survival of many farmers, said NFU county chairman Malcolm Corbett. He added: "We are sitting on a volcano here – it is disastrous."

A DEFRA spokesman admitted that experts had not yet traced the source of the cluster. But he refused to speculate on the final number of cases. &#42

: "We are not making any predictions. We have had two days recently when there havent been any cases but then the disease has flared up again. We are not going to talk numbers."