Livestock ban in place over new foot-and-mouth scare

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The Independent Online

The spectre of foot-and-mouth returned to northern England yesterday when livestock movement was banned within an 8km (5 mile) area after two sheep showed symptoms of the disease.

The spectre of foot-and-mouth returned to northern England yesterday when livestock movement was banned within an 8km (5 mile) area after two sheep showed symptoms of the disease.

The rural affairs ministry, Defra, insisted that the discovery of mouth lesions among a flock of 400 sheep at a farm hit by the epidemic six months ago at Hawnby, near York, was not necessarily foot-and-mouth, though no such lesions have been discovered since the last case was detected in September.

Elliot Morley, the Animal Welfare minister, said: "We must take no chances with this very infectious disease. This suspect case underlines the need for farmers and vets to remain vigilant during the restocking period and lambing season."

The lesions were discovered by a vet involved in the foot-and-mouth clean-up, during a routine weekly inspection required by Defra when farms restock after the disease. The lesions could have been caused by rough food or by the infection on the farm, which was culled out in August.

In the five years before last year's epidemic, an average of 11 such discoveries were made each year. In those cases, roads were closed off while samples were examined at the Institute of Animal Health laboratory at Pirbright, Surrey. No foot-and-mouth resulted.

Last night, Defra sources suggested that no lesions had been discovered on the Hawnby sheep's feet, which is an encouraging sign, though laboratory tests may take anything between four and 96 hours to deliver results.

Farms in the north of England have been in a state of tension since Friday when a sheep at Kirby Stephen, in Cumbria, was found to be carrying foot-and-mouth antibodies. The sheep was the first in the county's "sentinel" herds – put out to graze for 28 days to test the ground before restocking commences – to have tested positive for antibodies, which indicate an animal may have been in contact with the infection.

Rumours that new cases are going undeclared by Defra have been rife across Cumbria in recent weeks. Defra said yesterday that the test results on the Cumbria sheep had proved negative for the disease.

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