Sheep slaughter to eradicate scrapie

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The Government is proposing new powers that would allow the slaughter of millions of sheep if scrapie is found to be widespread in the UK's flocks.

The Government is proposing new powers that would allow the slaughter of millions of sheep if scrapie is found to be widespread in the UK's flocks.

The Animal Health Bill is to be introduced within weeks as ministers prepare plans to test the entire sheep population for their susceptibility to the brain disease. The Bill, which will also allow more extensive testing for BSE, will to try to prevent a repetition of the scandal surrounding the handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Experts fear that scrapie could be linked with BSE, although this has not been proven. However, sheep shown to be at great risk are certain to be shot.

That is bound to prove unpopular with struggling sheep farmers who have seen prices slide to rock bottom levels in recent years. "This is just another kick in the teeth to an industry that is so far down on the ground it is lucky to get up again," said Janet George of Countryside Action Network. "There is still no proof positive that BSE came from scrapie."

Robin Cook disclosed plans for the Bill yesterday when he infuriated the anti-hunting lobby by indicating that the Government would not introduce a Bill banning hunting.

The Leader of the House hinted that demands on the parliamentary timetable would mean that there would be "an indicative" rather than full vote on hunting with hounds. The news, disclosed in The Independent yesterday, is expected to anger Labour MPs who are planning a fresh campaign to force hunting back on to the House of commons agenda.

"We have got three Bills arising from 11 September. In addition there will inevitably be some Northern Ireland legislation and we could also be taking legislation on rail [and] foot-and-mouth," Mr Cook said

The anti-hunt coalition comprising the RSPCA and other animal welfare groups called on the government to "honour its promises in full".

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