Farmers in Scotland called for disinfection sites to be set up along the English border on Wednesday amid suggestions that a company chaired by the man heading one of the Government's foot-and-mouth inquiries may have carried the disease to Scottish farms.
A livestock buyer working for Sir Don Curry, who was recently appointed by Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, to lead the commission examining the future of farming, was identified as the "dangerous contact" who visited the seven Borders farms now on a foot-and-mouth alert. The development has thrown into doubt Scotland's hopes of securing an export licence after three months free of the disease.
The buyer, John Horncastle, works for Sir Don's North Country Primestock (NCP) cooperative and has had herds culled in Allendale, Northumberland, where 13 cases have been found in the past seven days. Mr Horncastle said he had no idea his farm was infected when he crossed the border on Monday and Thursday of last week.
Colin Anderson, a Scottish farmer whose premises are under new restrictions, confirmed the presence last Thursday of Mr Horncastle and a colleague from NCP. "He told me he had disinfected before he left his farm and we had no idea about the Northumberland outbreak at that point," he said. "Then on Sunday evening the vet called and said he was banning all livestock movements. Now we're living in hope it hasn't spread up here."
Sir Don, a former chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission who has farmed since 1971 in Hexham, defended Mr Horncastle. "There is no suggestion [he] has behaved improperly. Since the latest outbreak in Allendale he has been confined to his farms," he said.
The National Farmers' Union in Scotland said the new Borders alert served as a "huge wake-up call" to those farmers in northern Scotland who were putting the industry at risk by failing to follow strict biosecurity measures.
Jim Walker, the union's president, said disinfection sites for "high risk" vehicles 10 to 15 miles south of the border would ensure all farm vehicles entering Scotland were free of foot-and-mouth disease. Similar schemes, in which drivers were given certificates to prove they had been disinfected, had been successful in Ireland and Holland, where violators were fined up to £5,000.
Mr Walker also announced the start of a campaign calling on the Government to tighten its import controls to ensure no more infected meat from abroad entered the country.
"Scotland has been clear of foot-and-mouth for just about three months, and we need to make sure we stay clear in order ... for a case to be made for exports to be re-started," he said. "Tougher action needs to be taken."