EU eases pig ban as swine fever is contained

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The Independent Online

The European ban on English live pig exports was partially lifted yesterday when Brussels agreed the outbreak of swine fever appeared to have been contained.

The European ban on English live pig exports was partially lifted yesterday when Brussels agreed the outbreak of swine fever appeared to have been contained.

The European Commission's standing veterinary committee decided to restrict the export ban to East Angliafollowing reassurances from UK vets that the disease had not spread.

The decision to limit the ban to pigs from Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex was hailed last night as a major victory for the Government and its patient approach to tackling the disease.

Restrictions were placed last week on 35 farms stretching from Lancashire to the Isle of Wight, but in recent days seven of the farms have been declared free of swine fever. The veterinary committee's ruling is a major fillip for Britain's beleaguered farmers and was welcomed by the National Farmers' Union and the Pig Farmers' Association.

The decision was agreed unanimously at a meeting of the committee on the basis of a report given by Jim Scudamore, the Government's chief veterinary officer.

Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, was delighted by the move, which follows speculation that the ban was set to be tightened to cover pork products.

"We are doing everything we can to eliminate this as quickly as possible," he told Radio 4's Today programme. Five farms in East Anglia were reported to be infected with the disease early this month and the Ministry of Agriculture has acted swiftly to restrict any possible spread.

The ministry announced on Monday that four more farms, two in Suffolk, one in Kent and one in Lincolnshire, have been cleared by scientists investigating the disease. Tests have yet to be completed on about 30 more farms.

A further EU decision to lift the ban for the whole of East Anglia could be made at the next veterinary meeting in Brussels on 5 September.

Mr Scudamore said the move was "very good news", but said it was difficult to predict when swine fever would be wiped out from East Anglia, because the incubation period could last up to 21 days.

"We have been tracing all the movements of pigs, people and vehicles from the infected farms and we've been visiting the destinations and looking at the pigs there and testing blood samples," he told Radio 4's The World at One programme.

"We've got results coming in all the time and if they are all negative, then we will have contained it in East Anglia."

John Godfrey, chairman of the National Pig Association, said the Brussels decision was a "vote of confidence" in the approach of the UK and its vets.

"They have done a tremendous job and it shows the EU vets have confidence in what we are doing. I believe we can now see an end to the problems of classical swine fever in the UK. But we still have major problems with the movement of pigs within the surveillance zone in East Anglia."

Tim Yeo, the shadow Agriculture Minister, welcomed the lifting of the ban but warned that some pig farmers in surveillance zones were still facing financial ruin.

"There is no reason why those farms should not also be given early relief, otherwise serious animal welfare problems may arise," Mr Yeo said.

"The ban may be lifted, but the financial impact will still weigh heavy on farmers' shoulders. Questions about how this outbreak occurred in the first place are still to be answered."