A ministry spokesman said there was no risk to humans who eat beef or drink milk from cows that are antibody positive for the bovine immunodeficiency virus, a close relative of the human Aids virus, HIV.
He said the Milk Marketing Board, which last week stopped collecting milk from the farm, as revealed exclusively by the Independent on Sunday, had, after receiving written reassurance from the ministry, agreed to start collections again. However, the solicitor acting for the farmer, who has asked to remain anonymous, said yesterday the Milk Marketing Board had told his client that it will not pay for the milk as it will be fed to pigs and not be sold on for human consumption.
Northern Dairies, the company contracted by the board to buy the milk from the farm, said yesterday: 'Northern Dairies can confirm that we have been informed of concerns over a Cheshire farm herd. Our information gained from the Milk Marketing Board and Maff is that there are no diseases affecting the herd which could have any adverse affect on milk.'
The company said its routine tests have not revealed any problems with the milk. 'However, because of the poor animal health associated with this particular farm, Northern Dairies has decided not to accept milk from the herd in question for the time being.'
The farmer is to write to Gavin Strang MP, Labour's spokesman on agriculture, raising concerns about the mystery illnesses that are afflicting his herd and lack of information provided by government officials. Mr Strang said he will this week request a meeting with Gillian Shephard, Minister of Agriculture.
'I am concerned about the movement of animals from the farm. I will be raising the issue with the minister. We want to know how the diseases became established there,' Mr Strang said.
Government scientists have taken away further blood samples from the 50-strong herd and are expected to report the result of BIV tests this week. The Independent understands that in earlier tests, BIV antibodies were found in eight animals but only two have proved positive with more than one blood test.
The farmer said all his herd were affected by a spectrum of illnesses that often proved fatal. The symptoms - muscle wasting, respiratory infections, skin lesions and ulcers - are comparable to the opportunistic illnesses seen in human Aids.
The ministry spokesman said that even if BIV-positive animals develop full-blown disease, they make a 'full clinical recovery'. The farmer's experience, however, is that the majority of animals do not recover, and young cattle invariably die.
He said: 'We were told it won't spread. But we've got photographic proof of healthy cattle coming on to this farm and then becoming ill within two weeks.'
Leading article, page 13