Foot-and-mouth test on Yorkshire farm proves negative

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Preliminary tests for foot­and­mouth at a north Yorkshire farm have proved negative, although confirmation will not come for 96 hours.

Preliminary tests for foot-and-mouth at a north Yorkshire farm have proved negative, although confirmation will not come for 96 hours.

Authorities were alerted yesterday morning by a vet who had carried out checks on sheep at a farm in Hawnby near Thirsk and discovered two animals with suspect lesions in their mouths.

Samples were taken from the sheep for urgent testing at the Institute of Animal Health laboratory at Pirbright, Surrey, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

A Defra spokesman added: "If it is a confirmed case we would declare the farm infected premises, slaughter all the animals then we would have to consider a contiguous cull. We would immediately face movement restrictions and export restrictions."

But it would be up to the EU's standing veterinary committee to decide if Britain would lose its disease free status, the spokesman said.

The two suspect sheep were slaughtered as a precaution and livestock movements in a five–mile radius around the suspect farm have been banned.

The sheep were examined yesterday as part of an inspection visit required by Defra when farms restock after foot-and-mouth.

The suspect farm originally had 145 cattle and 2,010 sheep but these were all destroyed last August when a neighbouring farm contracted foot-and-mouth.

The farm was later cleaned and disinfected and under the restocking process it received a number of animals which would have been inspected on a regular basis.

The spokesman said: "On the third weekly visit (yesterday morning) the vet found two animals with lesions in their mouths and a slightly raised temperature.

"There's a number of reasons why this could be the case, as a precaution we are doing laboratory tests on the lesions."

He said the farm had received 450 sheep from four different farms in north Yorkshire and officials were urgently checking these sources.

The foot-and-mouth crisis which began at Burnside Farm, at Heddon-on-the-Wall Northmuberland, in February last year, claimed the lives of about six million animals, cost farming more than £900 million and tourism a further £4.25 billion in England.

There were 2,030 confirmed cases of the disease in the UK and Northern Ireland and the last case was on September 30 last year.

Animal Welfare Minister Elliot Morley said: "We must take no chances with this very infectious disease. The Department thoroughly investigates all suspect cases, precautionary measures are put in place and we stand ready to take immediate action if the tests show positive.

"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."

Officials from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs turned vehicles away from the farm, believed to be Mount Pleasant Farm, and neighbouring St Agnes Farm owned by J Garbutt Farms.

Several cars and a van blocked the entrance while Defra officials stood outside.

An official, who declined to be named, said the whole area had been sealed off as a precaution.

He said the farmer had not been seen all morning. The farm is situated about a mile from the tiny picturesque village of Hawnby.