16 March 2001
Disease here for months, says dealer
by Alistair Driver
FOOT-AND-MOUTH may have been in British sheep since January, claims one of two livestock dealers blamed by the government for spreading the disease.
Kevin Feakins, of Llancloudy, Herefordshire, told Farmers Weekly that he sold the sheep to the French farm confirmed with the disease this week.
But British sheep exported by another UK trader to the south of France back in January have also been found to contain foot-and-mouth antibodies, he claimed.
Mr Feakins said the revelation was contained in a letter he received from a French sheep dealer. If true, it means the situation may be far worse than feared.
“The sheep had not come into contact with any other farms so it looks as if the virus may have been around in this country since January,” he said.
Foot-and-mouth was first confirmed in Britain on 20 February in pigs on an Essex farm. But if Mr Feakins is correct, it has been around for much longer.
Copies of the letter revealing the January date have been sent to agriculture minister Nick Brown and chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore, said Mr Feakins.
Mr Scudamore has confirmed that he was aware of Mr Feakins claims.
Mr Feakins is one of two livestock dealers who Mr Brown and Mr Scudamore both believe unwittingly spread foot-and-mouth disease around Britain.
The other dealer is Devon farmer Willy Cleave who bought infected sheep which were sold at Hexham livestock market, Northumberland, on 13 February.
Those sheep then moved through other markets, including Longtown and Northampton, triggering the chain of infection which has englufed 250 farms.
Mr Feakin bought infected sheep from Willy Cleave and his livestock were destroyed on 28 February after they were confirmed with the disease.
Mr Brown wants to trace all sheep sold by the two men so they can be destroyed as part of an extended mass cull announced on Thursday (15 March).
But Mr Feakin told Farmers Weekly that he wants the government to establish whether the virus was moving around the country before 13 February.
If it was, he and Mr Cleave would largely be “off the hook”, he said.
Mr Feakin said the governments fight against the disease was turning him into a scapegoat, possibly because he exported the virus to France, he believes.
“I have no idea why I have been singled out for spreading the disease,” he said. “I am an exporter and do not normally sell sheep in this country.”
Mr Feakin said the only sheep he sold recently in the UK were 150 lambs at Ross-on-Wye sold after exports were banned on 21 February.
He told Farmers Weekly that he then had to sell the lambs in locally because the export ban had closed off his usual markets abroad.
“MAFF have already traced all these sheep, so I dont know why Mr Brown is saying he still wants to track them down,” he said.
“The government is blaming dealers and markets because it wants to protect supermarkets,” Mr Feakins added,
Infected meat imported by supermarkets was more likely to have started the foot-and-mouth outbreak than dealers, he said.