British adviser says foot-and-mouth epidemic is under control
LONDON (AP) – The government’s chief scientific adviser said Thursday that Britain’s culling policy has brought the foot-and-mouth epidemic ”fully under control,” but protests grew over the pre-emptive slaughter of healthy animals.
Chief Scientist David King said the average daily tally of new cases had dropped to 23 from 43 at the end of March.
”On the basis of the fall in the number of cases being reported, the epidemic now is fully under control,” King said.
But he warned it would be a ”bumpy ride” until the livestock scourge is eliminated altogether. ”As the epidemic comes under control it becomes more imperative that the controls remain,” King said. ”Restricting the movement of people and animals is crucial to the containment of the disease. We have to keep very, very vigilant.”
In a sign of growing resistance to the government’s policy of slaughtering healthy animals adjacent to affected farms, more than 100 protesters on Thursday barricaded entry to a farm run by learning-disabled people to prevent the animals from being destroyed.
The 100 sheep and 60 healthy dairy cattle bred at the charity-run Oaklands Park Farm in Gloucestershire were earmarked for slaughter after the highly contagious disease was found on a neighboring farm.
Agriculture Ministry officials said Thursday they would not force their way onto the farm, and a spokesman promised the case would be reviewed ”because of the special circumstances” of the farm for the disabled.
With nearly 1,400 confirmed cases of the disease – and the tally still rising daily – the national economy is hurting.
The Institute of Directors, which represents business leaders, said Thursday that the epidemic has already cost British companies $30 billion. The losses could double if it runs until July, the group said.
A survey of 600 businesses showed at least a third of smaller businesses and half of larger ones had seen their profits affected as the blow to agriculture sent ripples through the economy, the institute said. So far, smaller businesses had lost an average of $75,000 and larger ones an average of $300,000, it said.
”These are not trivial sums. Along with … the deteriorating international situation and the fragile stock markets, the economic situation is certainly not as bright as it was even two to three months ago,” said the institute’s director, Ruth Lea.
The National Farmers Union has estimated that farmers were losing $360 million a month.
Government officials held another round of talks Thursday with the National Farmers’ Union about whether to begin a limited vaccination program in the worst-hit areas before animals are put out to spring pasture.
Farmers fear that vaccinating could shut Britain out of export markets for up to two years, as other countries will not accept meat and animals from a vaccinating country. Critics also argue that vaccination is not 100 percent effective, as inoculated animals can still carry the disease.
In the southwestern English county of Devon, one of the worst hit areas, vets questioned the government’s policy of culling all cattle along with sheep on adjacent farms, saying sheep should be targeted because they are more difficult to diagnose.
”We feel they could divert the resources more profitably and more efficiently by concentrating on culling a two-kilometer (1.2-mile) zone free of sheep around an infected premises,” said Roger Cunningham, a vet from Okehampton who has written to the government expressing his concerns. He says he has the backing of around 50 other vets.
A total of 1.2 million animals have already been slaughtered – of which 400,000 remain to be disposed of – and another 575,000 await culling.
The Netherlands has reported 25 cases of foot-and-mouth, Ireland three and France two. The disease can be spread through even minimal contact with infected cattle, sheep and pigs as well as farm equipment or meat, but humans cannot catch it.
On the Net:
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: http://www.maff.gov.uk
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