Ramblers and hunters hang up their boots as Britain prepares to stamp out an epidemic

The consequences
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The Independent Online

23 February 2001

23 February 2001

Rambling

Ramblers were yesterday warned to keep out of the countryside because of the danger from foot-and-mouth disease in several counties and to avoid livestock areas in other counties. The Ramblers Association urged people to scrap walks planned for Essex, Buckinghamshire, the Isle of Wight, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire, where the disease has been found. Their advice was simply: "If in doubt, cancel your walk."

The National Farmers' Union warned the disease could spread up to 150 miles through airborne transmission and asked anyone walking in the countryside to be vigilant.

Ben Gill, the NFU chairman, said: "Journeys into the countryside where livestock are about should not take place unless necessary."

The disease knows no boundaries. Not only can it be spread through the air but it can be transmitted through urine, milk, semen or saliva.

The National Pig Association also asked ramblers to reschedule their countryside walks. A spokesman said: "Can we stress the importance of staying away from livestock farms for the time being?

"If a passer-by were to talk over a fence to an infected sow, lamb or an inquisitive heifer, the virus would reach their nose, where it would remain for up to two days. If they were to come into close contact with an animal, the disease would spread." said a spokesman.

The National Trust said it would not be closing any land to the public, though there are fears walkers' clothing and vehicles could assist the spread of the Disease.

The Trust's Sarah Clifford said any decision to "close down the countryside" would have to come from the Government.

Markets and abattoirs

The Stanfords livestock market in Essex was cancelled today and dozens of workers sent home from abattoirs. A spokesman for the firm said although they were outside the exclusion zone they hope the situation will clear over the weekend "so we can make a decision about Tuesday's market".

The Essex abattoir and two others have been shut down so far. A second abattoir was placed under a five-mile animal exclusion zone after a "suspect" bullock was found. The young animal, which has since been destroyed, was tested for signs of foot-and-mouth at the site in Guildford, Surrey. A Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spokeswoman said the abattoir, which has not been named, was placed under restrictions yesterday after officials stopped movement in and out of the site.

In North Wales, some 60 workers were sent home yesterday when the Owen G Owen abattoir in St Asaph was closed. They were told the move was due to the ban on meat exports.

The managing director, Owen Owen, has run two slaughterhouses in North Wales for 20 years, but the one in St Asaph relies on the export market. Mr Owen's other abattoir, Gig Mon in Llangefni, Anglesey, which employs 130 staff, will work at 50 per cent capacity while the ban continues.

He said: "Our abattoir in St Asaph is almost solely dedicated to exports, and as such there is no trade for us."

Shops and businesses

Supermarkets reported some calls from concerned customers but said most realised their health was not at risk.

All major food retail outlets have confirmed they are in "constant contact" with suppliers to ensure their shelves will remain stocked, though several farms have been placed off-limits to distribution vehicles after foot-and-mouth was found in herds.

Tesco, which had used one of the affected farms as a minor supplier, has now suspended some meat deliveries, according to spokesman John Church.

Mr Church said: "This is not a human health issue. Our concern is to help the farmers prevent the spread of the disease and ensure there's not a knock-on effect to other suppliers." Asda's Nick Agarwal said there had been "zero calls to customer service", but added that Asda was monitoring the situation closely and was confident it would be able to maintain supply to stores. A spokesman for Sainsbury said: "Demand has not been affected. People are questioning us in the stores but there has been no drop in demand."

Sainsbury and Safeway have have contingency plans if the outbreak grows, but they were not yet experiencing problems.

One of the largest milk producing cooperatives, the northern based Zenith, said they had issued air filters and protective clothing to their hauliers as a precaution. "But as we do not pick up in Essex we are not yet affected," a spokesman said.

The only company to report a surge in business as result of the outbreak is the country's biggest manufacturer of agricultural disinfectants. Antec International of Sudbury in Suffolk is working round the clock to keep up with demand for its disinfectants which are vital to prevent spread of the disease.

Sport

Fears that the disease could have a devastating impact on horse racing have already led to one meet being cancelled.

Horses are immune to foot-and-mouth but can carry the disease and an epidemic could seriously damage the racing programme.

Race meets will continue for the time being but the Jockey Club urged participants to take extra precautions.

A suspected case of the disease is being investigated in Stoud, 12 miles from the site of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the three-day meet which is the highlight of the jump season.

If restrictions on the transportation of horses were imposed it could prevent some of the favoured contenders competing in the race. It could also have serious implications for breeding race horses as it is the time of year when mares are shipped from abroad.

A Jockey Club spokesman, John Maxse, said: "There can be benefits with people taking extra precautions, particularly those with wagons which go on and off farmland. However, there remains no threat to scheduled race meetings. We will continue to monitor the situation and see how it develops."

In November 1967 a ban was put on all racing in Britain in a bid to help stem the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. Racing resumed three months later.

A point-to-point race planned for this Sunday has been cancelled. It was due to be held at High Easter, Essex, some 20 miles from the abattoir at the centre of the outbreak scare. The decision whether other point-to-point meetings should be cancelled will taken next week by the Jockey Club.

Hunting

All hunting has been suspended for seven days following a decision by the associations which cover country sports. A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said the length of the ban depends on the spread of the disease.

"The Hunting Associations have voluntarily suspended hunting operations for seven days, when they will review the situation. It is as a direct response to the foot-and-mouth situation."

Lord Daresbury of the Masters of Fox Hunts Association said: "As the extent of the infection is not known, the MFHA has decided there should be a suspension of hunting for one week, by which time it should be known whether the disease has been contained. The interest of the farming community must be the priority for hunts."

The Association issued a set of guidelines to its members to avoid spreading foot-and-mouth. Several hunts around Essex, where the outbreak was first reported, have been cancelled. The Essex Hunt covers Brentwood to Chelmsford, up to Ashton and has about 30 regular riders. The Essex and Suffolk Hunt rides from Sudbury in west to Clacton on the coast up to Ipswich in the north and has about 30 regular members.

Post

Postal workers were ordered yesterday to avoid affected farms, to prevent the spread of the disease.

MAFF told the Royal Mail that, although the disease posed no risk to humans, postmen delivering to infected farms risked transferring the disease on their shoes and tyres.

A Post Office spokeswoman said postmen should arrange to contact suspect farms before setting out to deliver the mail. Guidelines released by MAFF suggested that postmen either arranged for mail to be handed over at farm gates, agreed for farmers to collect from post offices, or sorted out an alternative delivery address.

The Post Office said the precautionary procedures would remain in place until an all-clear from the Government.

If postal staff did need to go onto affected farms, they would disinfect vehicles and clothing before deliveries, the Post Office spokeswoman said. She added: "We have a policy to deal with all eventualities - we would have had a policy for foot-and-mouth disease 20 years ago - and we will not let our posties become carriers."

Zoos

A wildlife park in Kent close to a farm affected by foot-and-mouth yesterday delayed its Spring opening as Government officials began discussions with zoos about health restrictions.

Officials at Farming World in Broughton, near Faversham, who fear for their rare llamas, pigs and sheep, erected "No Entry" signs on all gates into the property, which has been closed for the winter. Staff must use sterilising foot baths before and after working with the breeds.

The park director John Johnson said they had taken all the precautions possible, but added: "We are extremely concerned. If even one animal here is affected, we will have to destroy the whole lot. It would be absolutely tragic."

Mr Johnson said he had spent the day consulting Maff experts, who had recommended delaying the 1 March reopening date until further information is available.

Farming World, which has 40 animals, is 30 miles from Gravesend, where an exclusion zone was declared yesterday. General restrictions were not yet in place on zoos but a spokeswoman for the Zoological Society of London, which covers London Zoo and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park in Bedfordshire, said precautionary measures could be taken.

She said: "We are consulting with Maff and our vets here and we are waiting for them to advise us on whether we need restrictions." It was too early to say if either attraction was likely to be affected, she added.

Elephants and rhinos can be vulnerable to foot-and-mouth disease and buffalo, yak, camels and llama can also be susceptible. Many zoos also have children's farms, which stock cattle, sheep, pigs and goats, which are all vulnerable.

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