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Four Scottish farms sealed off as foot-and-mouth threat returns
FOUR farms in the Scottish Borders were sealed off last night as it was confirmed that they are under investigation for signs of fresh contamination with foot-and-mouth disease.
The exact locations of the farms have not been revealed, but they are suspected of having had a "dangerous contact" with a farm from one of the 11 south of the Border where new outbreaks of the disease have now been confirmed.
Scotland is only two days away from being declared disease-free and any new cases of foot-and-mouth could set both the farming and tourist industries back months.
At worst, it could be up to four weeks before test results are available from all the animals, meaning that even if they are declared healthy there will be further delay to the granting of export licences to farmers north of the Border.
Only last week it was estimated that the foot-and-mouth crisis had cost Scotland’s rural industries and the tourism sector £200 million.
Government officials moved in to close off the affected farms - in the Lauder area - to the outside world yesterday afternoon to allow testing to begin.
No details are available of exactly what types of animals are involved, but it can take two to three days to obtain results from cattle, while sheep normally take two to four weeks.
The investigation is being carried out by the Scottish Borders Foot-and-Mouth Disease operation centre, where it was stressed that the disease has not been confirmed in Scotland.
Officials from the centre immediately ordered precautionary restrictions on the farms as soon as the contact was reported.
The restrictions will remain in place while stock are examined or tested.
Andrew Voas, divisional veterinary manager at the centre, said last night: "It has been agreed at least for the time being there will be no pre-emptive slaughter of stock on these four farms. There is also no suggestion that precautionary restrictions need to be extended to neighbouring farms.
"Vets will continue to monitor the situation at the four farms very closely indeed."
In England, foot-and-mouth is once again out of control, with four new cases confirmed in the 400 square mile region near Hexham, in Northumberland, yesterday, while another case identified on Saturday was re-classified as being two cases.
There have now been 11 new cases in four days in an area which, like Scotland, had been virus-free for months.
Government investigators admit to being baffled by the latest outbreak of disease in Northumberland - the English region where the foot-and-mouth epidemic was first recorded at the turn of the year.
Then, as the pattern of the outbreak emerged, the English cases were rapidly followed by a series of confirmed cases in Scotland.
The closest Northumberland farm implicated in the latest outbreak is believed to be just 35 miles across the Border.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister Lord Whitty described the new outbreaks as "very worrying".
He said: "The situation in Northumberland is now our number one priority, and in line with that we have imposed a ‘Blue Box’ of the strictest controls on movements and compulsory disinfection that should stamp down on the disease in that area." A spokesman for Borders Council said last night that a farmer from the Hexham area was believed to have been on the Scottish farms about a fortnight ago and may have had contact with sheep on all of the premises.
Scottish farmers were last night urged to hold their nerve as the prospect of being plunged back into the foot-and-mouth crisis arose.
Officials from the National Farmers Union Scotland said that the measures were precautionary and urged farmers to keep up their vigilance.
John Kinnaird, NFU Scotland vice-president, said: "What the Northumberland outbreaks show for people north of the Border is that they cannot afford to let their guard drop."
William Chisholm and Ron Mackenna Tuesday, 28th August 2001 The Scotsman
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), August 27, 2001