Return of foot-and-mouth suspected in Leicestershire

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The Independent Online

Two suspected cases of foot-and-mouth disease were reported in Leicestershire yesterday, four months after the last of six confirmed cases in the county.

Two suspected cases of foot-and-mouth disease were reported in Leicestershire yesterday, four months after the last of six confirmed cases in the county.

Emergency restrictions have been imposed on farms in Hinckley and Loughborough and a total of 37 cattle have been slaughtered as a precaution. Blood samples have been taken for testing. The first cattle were slaughtered on Friday evening, and the cattle at Hinckley slaughtered yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.

There were five new cases of the disease at the weekend – three in Cumbria and two in Northumberland – bringing the total to 2,013, Defra reported.

Leicestershire has remained mainly untroubled by the disease. The six cases between February and April were in Hinckley, Nuneaton, Melton Mowbray and Ashby de la Zouch. If confirmed, the latest outbreaks are likely to force the reversal of the opening of footpaths in the county where bans on walking on or near agricultural land had just been lifted.

Veterinary and public health experts have been alarmed by a new outbreak of 17 cases in 10 days near Hexham, North-umberland, which had been clear of disease for three months. It had been hoped that the county, where the epidemic started, would gain disease-free status this month.

According to the more optimistic theories, the reason the disease has reappeared is that it had been latent in sheep before passing to cattle. Scientists said the outbreaks represented a serious setback.

The Government has imposed a ban on animal movement across a 6,000-square- mile area of northern England in an attempt to eradicate the disease before the onset of colder weather. The new controls, which covered parts of Northumberland, Co Durham, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire, were seen as an indication of nervousness about a possible new flare-up.

The restrictions, set to last another two weeks, followed epidemiological forecasts and a warning from Professor David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, that tougher action was required. The ban on animal movements has fuelled farmers' fears about the welfare of their herds. Many have complained about overcrowded conditions on their farms and others are concerned at the lack of feed and bedding for stock they are unable to move to winter quarters.

The Government has admitted that the ban on meat exports may not be lifted by next autumn and has advised sheep farmers not to produce lambs for foreign sale.

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