Northern Ireland hopeful of escaping disease

Northern Ireland farmers are increasingly hopeful that they have escaped the foot-and-mouth scourge spreading throughout Britain.

Northern Ireland farmers are increasingly hopeful that they have escaped the foot-and-mouth scourge spreading throughout Britain.

So far the province has seen no outbreaks and three farms which sent pigs to the Essex abattoir have been given the all-clear by Ministry of Agriculture vets.

Movement restrictions were also lifted on almost half of 100 farms where they had been imposed as a precaution in the wake of the outbreak in Britain.

However the Ulster Farmers Union says farmers should not lift their guard yet, as what is happening to farmers in mainland Britain is a lesson to everyone.

And they welcomed the tightening of measures at air and sea ports to prevent the disease being brought in from Britain.

Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Brid Rodgers, who attended a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels to discuss the issue, put off a statement to Assembly members at Stormont to attend a crisis meeting called by Tony Blair in Downing Street.

Meanwhile it became clear the EU would not lift the export ban in Northern Ireland for at least another week.

The UFU says a regional status for Northern Ireland - which would allow them to start exporting again - remains the key target for the local industry.

The province's Chief Veterinary Officer presented the EU Standing Veterinary Committee with the evidence of measures taken to keep the region disease free.

UFO President Douglas Rowe says it remains critical that the EU lifts export restrictions on Northern Ireland at the earliest possible opportunity.

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