Devon is just a single sheep away from a future free of foot-and-mouth

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The Independent Online

A blood test from a lone sheep will determine whether the foot-and-mouth outbreak which crippled farming communities in Devon is now officially at an end, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said last night.

A blood test from a lone sheep will determine whether the foot-and-mouth outbreak which crippled farming communities in Devon is now officially at an end, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said last night.

Farmers across the South-west are waiting for the sample from the Tiverton area, the last in a series of delayed results, to be given the all-clear to mark the end of the virus in one of the areas worst affected by the epidemic.

The result, the final test of a batch delayed from last week, will allow government vets to lift the restrictions which limit livestock movements while the county is officially listed as "at risk" of foot-and-mouth.

David Hill, the chairman of Devon NFU, who farms near Okehampton, said farmers were waiting for one remaining result to confirm the county was free of the outbreak.

He added: "It's instant death or instant success. There has been a mood of intense frustration here because for three weeks we have been told we might go free of foot-and-mouth the following Monday. If we go free it will be a huge morale boost."

There has been confusion over the final batch of blood-test results, leading to anger among farmers' leaders who want the county declared disease-free to allow them to restart the trade in livestock. But yesterday optimism was growing that the all-clear was finally about to be given. Officials at Defra expect the results to be ready as early as today.

Farmers still cannot move sheep out of the county, except for slaughter. Movements within the county can only take place if sheep have been inspected for signs of the disease and their blood tested for foot-and-mouth antibodies.

Devon, along with Cumbria, bore the brunt of foot-and-mouth. There were 173 cases confirmed in the South-west "hotspot" with almost 400,000 animals slaughtered to contain the outbreak.

At its height, nearly 16,000 premises were under restrictions in the South-west, as vets fought to contain the spread of the disease. The last case of foot-and-mouth was confirmed in Devon in June.

The virus has created havoc in the South-west tourist industry, and even affected school test results, such has been the disruption caused by the epidemic.

Devon is one of 16 counties with restrictions on animal movements because of their classification as "at risk" of foot-and-mouth. A further 12, including Cumbria, are rated "high risk" and have a still tighter regime of restrictions.

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