Northern Ireland bans movement of animals after two new cases

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Efforts are under way in Northern Ireland to contain foot-and-mouth amid suspicions that the disease may have been spread by illegal movement of animals.

Efforts are under way in Northern Ireland to contain foot-and-mouth amid suspicions that the disease may have been spread by the illegal movement of animals.

In recent days two cases have been discovered in districts some 50 miles apart.

Northern Ireland's Agriculture Minister, Brid Rodgers, announced a ban on the movement of farm animals, appealing to farmers to seal off their properties as two more "hot suspects" emerged. The restriction covers taking animals to the slaughterhouse.

With the Stormont Executive meeting in emergency session she declared: "I have rescinded all licences to move animals and I am saying to farmers, sealing off your farms is not putting a mat at the gate." Her department is tracing the licensed movement of animals to find the source of the latest outbreaks.

She also appealed for information concerning any unlicensed movement of farm animals, saying: "My message to the farming community is that the future of the industry in Northern Ireland is now in the hands of every individual farmer." The authorities are also concerned that some farmers may not have reported animals showing symptoms.

Her executive colleague Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein Education Minister, appealed to farmers not to be afraid to report any signs of the disease. He said: "We should not lose heart. We have to continue to fight because the implications for the entire industry are too horrendous to contemplate."

The culling and burning of livestock in the infected areas at Ardboe, Co Tyrone, and Cushendall in Co Antrim was under way yesterday. Two more "hot suspects" in Tyrone are being investigated. The Co Tyrone slaughter is now thought to be much higher than originally expected, with up to 16,000 animals earmarked for the cull.

Miceal McCoy of the Northern Ireland Agriculture Producers' Association warned that a potential disaster loomed for the industry. He believed that farmers became complacent when six weeks had passed since the first outbreak in Meigh, Co Armagh.

In the Irish Republic, the Agriculture Minister, Joe Walsh, called for extra vigilance in the republic's farming community in the face of the Northern Ireland outbreaks.

"I want to ask everyone to redouble their efforts. Farmers are in the front line in this campaign. They must make their premises no-go areas for either susceptible animals and for visitors from other farms. We just have to do that bit extra. It would be an awful picture if the devastation we have seen in Britain on our television screens was visited on this country," Mr Walsh said.