Army mobilised to combat foot-and-mouth

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The Independent Online

The army was drafted into Northumberland's fight against a second wave of foot-and-mouth on Friday as the disease escaped the Government's fiercely enforced biosecurity zone in the county.

The army was drafted into Northumberland's fight against a second wave of foot-and-mouth on Friday as the disease escaped the Government's fiercely enforced biosecurity zone in the county.

One of three new cases reported in the Hexham area of Northumberland was outside the "blue box" restricted area currently covering the Allendale valley.

This was a blow to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which had introduced car disinfection checkpoints for the first time, fearing the virus's spread to the vast adjoining areas of Upper Weardale, the South Tyne Valley and Co Durham ­ which has had no cases since the beginning of June. The new cases, close to the pig unit at Heddon-on-the-Wall where the epidemic was first disclosed six months ago, took the UK total to 1,992 and left Defra anticipating the grim 2,000 landmark being reached this weekend.

A new case at the Greyside farm, Fourstones, Hexham, is outside the so-called "blue box", the zone in which there are strict rules on animal movements and an increased police presence to enforce regulations. The case is also the first north of the main east-west A69 road.

The development was of "massive concern", according to the National Farmers' Union in the North-east. "The disease seems to have breached the boundaries set by the Government and this is the worst possible news for Northumberland farmers," a spokesman said.

After two days with no new cases nationwide, Defra also confirmed outbreaks at Low Eshells, Hexham, and Elrington Hall Farm, Haydon Bridge, taking Northumberland's toll in the past eight days to 16. There had been none in the county for three months before last Friday.

An initial contingent of 25 soldiers from the 101 Northumbrian Royal Artillery Volunteer Regiment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Gary Donaldson, will be deployed on Monday to help disposal and disinfection. In the meantime, extra slaughtermen are being drafted in from neighbouring Cumbria, which has had no new cases since Monday, to keep to the target of slaughtering infected animals within 24 hours of the disease being found and disposing of the carcasses within 48 hours.

In the new cases 280 cattle will need to be culled at Elrington Hall Farm, 211 cattle and 1,419 sheep at Low Eshells, and 383 cattle and 1,038 sheep at Greyside, though soldiers will not be involved in the slaughter.

The disease's apparent spread will force a considerable extension to the "blue box", which currently covers around 400 square miles.

Tim Yeo, the Tory rural affairs spokesman, said: "The decision to bring in the Army suggests that this outbreak is more serious than the Government would admit."

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