Scottish farmers stay on guard after new foot-and-mouth cases

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The Independent Online

The new outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Northumberland continued to spread on Monday as five more cases were confirmed. Infected livestock were identified in the Allendale area, south-west of Hexham, but government vets said the town's market was unlikely to be to blame.

The new outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Northumberland continued to spread on Monday as five more cases were confirmed. Infected livestock were identified in the Allendale area, south-west of Hexham, but government vets said the town's market was unlikely to be to blame.

Northumberland was the source of the initial outbreak in February but had been clear of the disease since the end of May. Monday's new cases, together with six already confirmed there since last Thursday, have destroyed farmers' hopes that restrictions on livestock movements could be lifted within weeks.

A fourth new case in two days was confirmed Monday in Cumbria, dealing a further blow to the region's chances of recovering some of its losses through a revival of the tourist trade in the autumn.

Tighter restrictions banning all movement of animals went into force on Monday in a 400 square mile (1,000 square km) area around Hexham. All footpaths have been closed and even milk floats will have an escort from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The new outbreak was initially thought to have been spread through Hexham market, from where infected animals could have moved on to other farms.

However, Arthur Griffiths, a divisional veterinary manager at the Newcastle Disease Control Centre, said yesterday the market had been ruled out as no animals had gone from there to farms. It had been used only as a collecting point for animals going to slaughter.

"We are still looking for the source but are not looking at Hexham market. It is extremely disappointing that we have another confirmed case and I cannot rule out the possibility of more to come.

"But it is not surprising that once the disease entered the area, several cases have occurred," he said.

The new outbreak brings the total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases to 1,985 and brought a new cull of 7,200 cattle and sheep on or next to infected farms in Northumberland and Cumbria. It has particularly worried farmers in Scotland, who will regain the right to apply for export licences on Thursday if the country remains foot-and-mouth free. A new case would mean they have to wait for another three months.

James Withers, a spokesman for the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, said there was no reason why farms north of the border should be affected, but he added: "What the Northumberland outbreaks show for people north of the border is that they cannot afford to let their guard drop. The message has to be that there is no room for complacency."

Meanwhile, a new cull of sheep on the Brecon Beacons took place yesterday despite farmers' protests that it was unnecessary. The Welsh agriculture minister, Carwyn Jones, said last week that a firebreak cull on the Beacons appeared to have worked and farmers were furious that more sheep were to be killed.

One farmer, Brychan Stephens, who had threatened to refuse to let 40 of his animals be culled, said: "This has nothing to do with disease control. It's more like a selective cull. It's about clearing the Beacons of sheep."

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly said 110 sheep were culled yesterday as they were part of flocks that had been in contact with infected animals. "Most of them were culled last week and these were the stragglers," she said.

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