Last remaining foot-and-mouth 'infected' area downgraded

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The Independent Online

The last remaining area in Britain classified as "infected" with foot–and–mouth was downgraded to "high risk" status, the government said.

The last remaining area in Britain classified as "infected" with foot–and–mouth was downgraded to "high risk" status, the government said.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said stringent restrictions had been lifted at around 1,500 farms in the area south of Penrith in northern England, which was hit hard by the epidemic. The new status will allow farmers more freedom to move livestock.

The decision to downgrade the status in Durham, North Yorkshire and Cumbria was taken following extensive blood testing of sheep and clinical examinations of cattle in the area, the government said.

"The lifting of the last remaining infected area in the country is a momentous achievement and reflects a great deal of hard work by teams on the ground," DEFRA Minister Lord Whitty said.

"We are not out of the woods yet," he added, and said a number of counties in northern England still had to be declared free of the disease.

Foot–and–mouth is a highly contagious disease that causes wasting in cloven–hoofed animals such as cows, sheep and pigs. While neither fatal to animals nor infectious in humans, it can ravage a country's livestock trade.

After more than 30 disease–free years, foot–and–mouth was found Feb. 20 among pigs in a slaughterhouse. By Sept. 30, when the last new case was reported, 2,030 cases had been confirmed across Britain.

Almost 4 million British animals have been killed this year in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.

A small number of areas in Britain are still either "high risk" or "at risk" – the next step down. However, the majority of the country is now classified as disease free – a status achieved when there have been no new cases for three months, and all vulnerable livestock have either tested negative or died.

The reclassification of the last infected area in Britain marked a symbolic milestone for farmers.

"This is a light at the end of the tunnel for farmers in this part of the country but there are still quite onerous movements restrictions in place," said Gill Shearer, regional spokeswoman for the National Farmers' Union.

"It will be the new year before we hope to be foot–and–mouth free but this is a step in the right direction," she added.

The government said Wednesday the epidemic had cost the tourism industry in England 3.3 billion pounds (dlrs 4.7 billion) for the eight months from March to October.

In a written reply to the House of Commons, junior tourism minister Kim Howells said the estimate took into account "value–added" terms, such as wages, salaries and profits.