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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 20:55 GMT 21:55 UK
Animal movement rules eased
Foot-and-mouth decontamination in progress
Widespread restrictions have been imposed on farms
The government has announced a relaxation of the rules governing the movement of animals in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The decision means thousands of farmers who have been unable to move their livestock will now be able to do so, although they will come under tighter scrutiny when they do so.

The decision has been taken despite the new outbreak of the disease in Northumberland which government ministers met to discuss on Tuesday.

However, farmers' leaders said the government had not gone far enough.

Fourteen new cases in Northumberland have been reported in the last six days.

Some (farmers) have had animals on their farms for six months and are at their wits end

The NFU's Tim Bennett
Rural Affairs Minister Lord Whitty said: "There will be no movement of animals in or out of high risk areas.

"Any movement will be in areas which have been risk free for some time."

The National Farmers' Union said the announcement of new arrangements for moving livestock would be a further blow to the confidence of beleaguered farmers.

NFU deputy president Tim Bennett said: "Farmers accept that the priority must be to prevent any further spread of the disease, particularly in light of recent developments in Northumberland.

"But some of these (farmers) have had animals on their farms for six months and are at their wits end."

There would be further urgent talks with the government later this week, Mr Bennett added.

'Speedy action needed'

Two possible sources of the new Northumberland outbreak are being investigated.

Firstly that the disease may have been carried into the area by the movement of people, animals or vehicles which were not properly disinfected.

Disease facts
Total: 1,989
New cases on Tuesday: 9
Slaughtered: 3,770,000
Awaiting slaughter: 18,000
Awaiting disposal: 3,000
Or it may have been spread unnoticed by sheep roaming freely on Hexhamshire Common, where some culling took place in June.

The 13th case of foot-and-mouth in Northumberland was found on Tuesday at Thornley Gate, Allendale, within the area of the recent cluster of cases.

Click here to see map of the area

The farm's 22 cattle were slaughtered on Tuesday.

Divisional veterinary manager Arthur Griffiths said it was not "surprising" the case had occurred in the immediate vicinity of the earlier cases.

"We are continuing to fight the disease through the imposition of strict biosecurity measures and adhering to the policy of culling within 24 hours on infected premises and 48 hours on contiguous premises," he added.

The situation in Northumberland is now our number one priority

Lord Whitty
Scottish farmers are worried the infection could be carried over the border just as they are hoping to resume their export trade after nearly three months free of the virus.

Livestock at four farms in the Scottish Borders are being kept under close observation for signs of the disease after a farmer from Hexham visited them 14 days ago.

Professor Roy Anderson, a government adviser on foot-and-mouth, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the "mini-epidemic" had to be stamped out quickly.

"The most important thing about this mini-epidemic is following the first, a very high fraction of the secondary cases have been in contiguous premises," he said.

"This highlights the need for a speedy action of the removal of the primary case within 24 hours and contiguous cull within 48 hours."

Blue Box controls

Government vets will spend 10 days inspecting farms within a 10-mile radius of the latest outbreak.

Strict controls have been imposed on the movement of livestock in the area, including a ban on animal movements within 10 miles (16 kilometres) of the affected farms.

Police and Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) officials will also patrol to ensure that no animals are being moved illegally.

The outbreak started to emerge within a five-mile area around Hexham on Thursday.

Defra minister Lord Whitty said: "The situation in Northumberland is now our number one priority, and in line with that we have imposed a "Blue Box" of the strictest controls on movements and compulsory disinfection that should stamp down on the disease in that area."

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The BBC's Tom Heap
"Moving animals is the easiest way to spread the disease"
Lord Whitty, Department of the Environment
"This is not a relaxation in controls"
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