1 March 2002

Farm fingers crossed for

F&M sheep test results

By Isabel Davies

THE farming industry waits with bated breath and fingers crossed to see if final test results from two sheep from a farm in North Yorkshire suspected of having foot-and-mouth disease are negative.

Fears about the re-emergence of the disease in the UK were sparked after a vet reported lesions in the mouths of two sheep on a farm in Hawnby near Thirsk on Tuesday (Feb 26).

Although initial test results released on Wednesday morning (Feb 27) were negative final results may not be ready until Sunday. This leaves the industry with an anxious wait.

The sheep were being examined as part of a routine inspection. The farm in question had all of its animals slaughtered as dangerous contacts in August.

Within hours DEFRA had imposed a ban on livestock movements in a 8km (5 mile) radius around the farm. This will remain in place until final results come through.

Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley said the case was being thoroughly investigated.

"This suspect case underlines the need for farmers and vets to remain vigilant during the restocking period and during the lambing season, and to maintain high standards of biosecurity."

The NFU said there was a certain amount of relief the first test was negative but it was now a case of "wait and see".

But Jim Walker, president of NFU Scotland, said: "The worry about the possibility has made us realise we dont know what would happen if a case is confirmed."

A DEFRA spokesman said one case would mean Britain would automatically lose its disease free status, recently granted by EU vets and the International Office of Epizootics (OIE).

It would also lead to the immediate suspension of all imports of meat, livestock and dairy products.

But exactly what control strategy the authorities would adopt is not yet clear. If tests were positive ministers would almost certainly put blue box restrictions in place in the region and would start tracing any potential dangerous contacts, said the spokesman.

But contiguous culling around the farm was not an automatic response, he insisted. "It is something we would have to look at.

The contiguous cull was a big part of the eradication strategy last time round but that was in a particular set of circumstances."

Consideration would also have to be given to whether a national ban on movements. &#42

was needed, the spokesman said. "Obviously [if the first test was positive] ministers would have considered very carefully about banning movements across the country," he said.

Will Britain be spared another brush with deadly foot-and-mouth?