Northern Ireland plans to ease farm restrictions

Containment
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The Independent Online
A gradual easing of farming restrictions is under way in Northern Ireland, although a widespread cull of sheep is just being completed in the border area where two foot-and-mouth cases were found weeks ago.

A gradual easing of farming restrictions is under way in Northern Ireland, although a widespread cull of sheep is just being completed in the border area where two foot-and-mouth cases were found weeks ago.

Restrictions remain at a high level in both parts of Ireland, damaging a number of parts of the economy, including tourism. At the same time, hopes are growing that the border outbreaks have been successfully contained.

On the northern side, up to 7,000 sheep had been slaughtered by last night, a much higher figure than anticipated. The authorities had expected to cull about 2,500, but found many sheep had given birth.

They also discovered that many sheep were not kept apart on the south Armagh hills, mixing freely with other flocks which then had to be put down. The intention has been to create a "firebreak" to isolate the scenes of the northern and southern occurrences.

After the cull, the Northern Ireland authorities hope they will be given EU permission to resume meat and dairy exports, which are suspended. The transport of milk from north to south, one million litres a day, has been halted.

Today, Northern Ireland's Chief Veterinary Officer, Bob McCracken, is due to appear at the EU Standing Veterinary Committee to confirm that all conditions have been met. The hope is that the committee will allow exports to resume from all areas except the border restriction zone.

A relaxation of restrictions on the movement of livestock and horses came into operation in Northern Ireland yesterday. Farmers will be able to apply for a licence to move livestock between their own holdings, provided they are within 10km of each other. Movement can be made on welfare grounds only.

Northern Ireland's Minister of Agriculture, Brid Rodgers, told the Belfast assembly: "I make no apology for stressing, again, the need for farmers to adopt a fortress mentality, as the last line of defence."

She said that recent relaxations of restrictions on general movements by the public had gone down well, and she hoped this would provide the springboard for a recovery in the tourist sector.

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