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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Disease 'stranglehold' on farmers
Farmers are still unsure when they can start restocking
By BBC correspondent John Thorne

The Jewitt sisters did everything right on their County Durham farm as the foot-and-mouth scourge flooded around them.

They virtually barricaded themselves and their cattle and sheep inside the boundaries of their 140-acre moorland property.

Neighbours delivered food and supplies to the farm gate.

And, by a miracle, where others lost their flocks to the ebb and flow of the infection, the Jewitts, of Lodge House Farm near Tow Law, escaped.

I have no idea when I can start to think about re-stocking

Farmer Stewart Moffat
But fat lot of good that did them, say their friends in the close-knit rural community now fighting the re-opening of the huge burial pit for foot-and-mouth carcasses just outside their town.

The sisters have not earned a penny in months. They cannot sell or move their 140 cattle or their 300 sheep and lambs because of movement restrictions and they are bitterly frustrated as they see other farmers cashing their compensation cheques.

Peter Lister, a neighbouring farmer, says friends are clubbing together to organise a rescue operation that will beat they regard as the insensitivity of government.

Black landmark

"Officials are only interested in defeating foot-and-mouth," he said.

"There's no plan to help farmers whose own good husbandry has kept the disease off their land.

"The Jewitt ladies are desperate now, they need fresh pastures to fatten up their stock. We're determined to let them use our fields to ensure they eventually get some income and survive."

Protesters at Tow Law
Protesters at Tow Law fear for their children's health
The mood around Tow Law is typical of the scattered and isolated upland livestock-breeding communities across Cumbria, Northumberland and Durham.

Now what the National Farmers' Union called the "black landmark" of the 2,000th infected farm has been reached, the anger, fear and frustration of the re-activated epidemic is biting into psyche of human "victims".

It is a similar tale across the denuded culling fields of Cumbria, the length and breadth of picturesque Allendale south west of Hexham.

Everywhere damaged by the foot-and-mouth crisis has a sad, poignant, personal story that counters the optimism of the official line that the disease is in its latter stages and being conquered.

'World's worst outbreak'

Stewart Moffat, farming at Wigton in the Lake District, lost all his cattle and sheep on 4 April, the 1,000th confirmed case in what the NFU is now terming "the world's worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth".

"It took 58 days for the compensation to come through," he said.

"And today the cleansing and disinfecting operation on my farm is still going on. I have no idea when I can start to think about re-stocking."

Now the concentrated effort against the disease is inside the extended blue restriction zone - some 500 square miles of the North East - where vets, slaughtermen and soldiers operate the most stringent bio-security regime around a sweeping slaughter and culling campaign.

For sheep and cattle farmers like David Smith - still untouched but right on the edge the Hexham hot spot - the time is right for vaccination.

"We cannot understand why there is such a reluctance in the Ministry. Our export potential has been crushed by this disease for the time being, let's try to save what's left of our livelihoods."

The BBC's John Thorne
"Officials are hinting a second burial site may have to be re-activated"
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