Sheep toll could swell by
600,000, samples show
UP TO 600,000 sheep face slaughter as fears grow that more livestock than previously expected have been unknowingly exposed to foot-and-mouth.
Farm leaders have admitted that tests on thousands of sheep in two hotspot areas – the Brecon Beacons national park in Wales and North Yorkshire – are likely to show that many animals are carrying F&M antibodies.
Blood samples from flocks tested so far in the Beacons have come back positive, prompting concern that 100,000 sheep are at risk. More than 5000 sheep have already been slaughtered. But officials privately fear the death toll could reach 250,000 as testing is extended to unfenced areas to south and west Wales.
Farmers Union of Wales deputy president Glyn Powell said: "It now seems certain the virus has spread right across the national park, and heaven knows how much further. As testing is extended it could be found on commons in the industrialised valleys of Glamorgan and Gwent, and even close to Carmarthen."
Some farmers favour sealing off the Beacons and letting the disease burn itself out. But Mr Powell said: "I am terribly afraid that farmers will have to live with an insidious, morale sapping, creeping cull for some time to come. All available resources must be used to step up the testing programme. We have to know where the virus is and we must do all we can to stop it."
In North Yorkshire, up to 50,000 sheep are being tested on farms around Thirsk. Officials are desperate to prevent the disease spreading into the pig population. More than 8600 pigs have already been slaughtered as a precaution and farmers face £5000 fines if they breach strict biosecurity arrangements.
NFU spokesman Rob Simpson said he believed some tests on sheep around Thirsk would come back positive. He declined to say how many animals may be culled but said there were about 350,000 sheep in the biosecurity zone. "The situation has sent a warning shot across the bows of many farmers and it is easy to understand why."
Almost 3m sheep have been slaughtered since the start of the F&M crisis in February. The government has spent £1.2bn combating the disease and has warned that the total bill could reach £2.3bn. *