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Ulster's live animal imports are cleared of having virus

By Linda McKee

All shipments of live animals imported into Northern Ireland from Britain before the latest foot and mouth outbreak have been cleared of having the disease, Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew announced last night.

Early test results suggest the latest outbreak is of the same strain as the August cases in Surrey and it is therefore being treated as a continuation of the original outbreak, Ms Gildernew said.

But the policy of treating the farm where this case was detected as 'infected premises 3' of the original outbreak has drawn criticism from members of the Stormont agriculture committee, which met in an emergency session last night.

Deputy chairman Tom Elliott said he was concerned that it could be a new outbreak and warned that Defra needs to clarify where the outbreaks are coming from sooner rather than later.

Speaking outside Stormont last night, Ms Gildernew said that all 72 shipments of livestock from Britain since the previous export ban was lifted have now been traced and tested.

"I am relieved to say that none are showing signs of the disease. None of the consignment has come from the Surrey area," she said.

"Hopefully it doesn't take hold. We've seen how devastating that can be for the entire industry as we did in 2001."

The minister was speaking after updating the Executive on the measures taken to keep the disease out of the province since the outbreak earlier this week. She thanked the First and Deputy First Ministers and other ministerial colleagues for their ongoing support.

Ms Gildernew said her staff have asked food exporters to contact her if they experience any problems with having shipments accepted abroad.

"There were no reports before I went into the executive meeting and I was told of none while I was in there. There is obviously nothing of any great seriousness causing the department concerns," she said.

"By and large EU member states and the vast majority of third countries are taking our products."

Members of the Stormont Agriculture Committee were relieved to learn that Northern Ireland is being treated the same as before but are concerned that this is considered to be part of the same outbreak, deputy chairman Tom Elliott said.

"How did it move there from one farm to another?" he asked, after emerging from a emergency session of the committee which was briefed by chief vet Bert Houston and DARD permanent secretary Malcolm McKibben.

"Is it a new outbreak or is it some kind of leak from that plant? While the report said it definitely came from Pirbright and was a leak, they are still ambivalent about what happened," Mr Elliott said.

"I think the Government are almost hiding something. I do think we need clarification from Defra sooner rather than later.

"I think if they were sure that it came from a local farm there would be no question marks about where it came from and they would be down on him like a tonne of bricks. They really need to get to the bottom of this infection."

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