Maff urges councils to defy foot and mouth cases

31 May 01
The government is sticking to its recommendations that local authorities open up more rights of way, despite a new rash of foot and mouth disease outbreaks.

01 June 2001

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food believes ramblers have done little to spread the disease and claims that the re-opening of paths, bridleways and open land outside 3km protection zones is justified.

A Maff spokesman said: 'We have done a lot of work on the ways the disease spread since we introduced restrictions on footpaths in February and feel it would be safe to open up rights of way.'

Maff officials have angered farmers by laying some of the blame for the recent outbreaks in Lancashire, Cumbria, Cheshire and North Yorkshire on them. The new cases came only days after recommendations urging councils to open up rights of way were published by Maff and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on May 23.

Maff's chief veterinary officer, Jim Scudamore, and chief scientific adviser, David King, said in a statement that the spread of the disease had been 'exacerbated by the nature of farming practices'. The comment, said the North-West of England National Farmers' Union, had caused 'huge resentment'.

The NFU nationally accepted that farmers could spread the disease, but also welcomed the re-opening of footpaths as long as it did not pose any risk. 'In principle it's fine to open more footpaths,' a spokeswoman said. 'Everyone must continue to take precautions, however.'

Cumbria County Council now plans to open more rights of way following the government recommendations, emulating Cheshire, which on Maff advice reopened 90% of its 7,000 footpaths and rights of way in time for the spring bank holiday.

Alan Gardner, chairman of the Cheshire NFU, said the council's action was premature. 'We warned foot and mouth could come back to Cheshire if footpaths were opened too soon,' he said.

North Yorkshire and Lancashire county councils are discussing re-opening rights of way in the next couple of weeks.


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