Milk from herd with cows' HIV defended

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is expected to take the Milk Marketing Board to court in order to force it to buy milk from a dairy farm affected by the bovine equivalent of the Aids virus.

The board said yesterday that it has no plans to collect milk from the Cheshire farmer despite assurances by the Ministry of Agriculture that the milk is safe for human consumption.

Gillian Shephard, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, did not uphold the board's original decision to refuse the milk, saying it was outside its legal powers to do so without a convincing explanation. Now that the board intends to continue defying Mrs Shephard, the ministry may be forced to take the farmer's case to the courts to settle the issue.

A spokeswoman for the MMB said yesterday: 'We're taking legal advice on what to do. The matter may well end up in court.' The board said it could not sell the farmer's milk because of fears over the health of the herd.

Officials at the ministry have written to the farmer, Tim Blything of Green Lane Farm, Kelsall, saying that the bovine immunodeficiency virus (BIV) is 'believed to be fairly widespread in Britain' and it can spread by contact between cattle.

But they believe that BIV causes little more than a transient illness so there is no need to make the virus a notifiable infection or ban the sale of milk. However, Mr Blything's cattle have been suffering from influenza-like symptoms for over a year. Many are wasting away and some have died.

The MMB told Mr Blything last March that it intended to stop collecting milk on the grounds that the 'arrangements for the production of milk are unsatisfactory'. The board refused to elaborate on what it meant by the 'arrangements' or why they were found unsatisfactory.

Legal officials at the ministry have written to Mr Blything saying that the board has 'failed to give a convincing explanation of why (it found) your arrangements unsatisfactory. Accordingly, the board went outside its powers.'

Veterinary scientists have begun a full-scale investigation of the 100-strong herd to find the cause of the wasting illness. Preliminary results show that BIV may be present in more than 90 per cent of the animals.