UK's fourth case of bluetongue confirmed

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The Government's chief veterinary officer, Debby Reynolds, was under pressure to declare an outbreak of bluetongue in Britain after a fourth cow was confirmed with the disease.

The case, on a farm near Ipswich, Suffolk, increased fears that the midge-borne disease could become established in Britain after crossing the Channel, where it has devastated cattle herds and sheep flocks. Vets confirmed bluetongue in a Holstein cow on a farm in Lound – 50 miles from a rare breeds farm in Baylham, where it was first detected in two animals at the weekend.

Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), chaired a meeting of the emergency planning committee Cobra to discuss the twin threats of bluetongue and foot-and-mouth facing farmers. A Defra spokesman said there was not yet enough evidence to confirm an active outbreak of bluetongue and that tests were being carried out to see if the disease is circulating in the UK.

The Conservatives' environment spokesman, Peter Ainsworth said: "The news for British farming seems to get worse every day. This latest finding of bluetongue is ominous even though it is not entirely unexpected. After four confirmed cases, the Government should now make clear on what basis they will declare an official outbreak of bluetongue."

Declaring an outbreak would impose bans on the transport of animals over a wide area, just as Dr Reynolds has started to ease transport bans imposed for foot-and-mouth which are threatening to ruin some farmers.

A temporary control zone has been established around a premises near Maidenhead, Berkshire, on suspicion of foot-and-mouth. If foot-and-mouth is confirmed, it will be the first time the disease has spread outside Surrey since the outbreak began in August.

At the Labour conference in Bournemouth, Gordon Brown answered criticism that the Government had not done enough for farmers. "I assure you that the concerns of the rural areas, and those people who are active in the rural areas, we regard as something which is the real responsibility of a party that speaks not just for some of the country," he said. "The Labour Party, let us be proud of it, we speak for the whole country."

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