Foot and Mouth Vaccinations Discussed

Friday, March 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) - Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday put off a decision on whether to vaccinate some dairy cattle in the fight against foot-and-mouth disease, because of resistance from farmers.

The European Union earlier this week gave Britain permission to vaccinate 180,000 dairy cattle in the hardest-hit regions. A spokesman for Blair first said a decision would be made by Saturday, but later indicated it might be made on Monday.

``If we go down this road we have to take the farmers with us,'' said a spokesman for Blair, speaking on condition of anonymity. ``We have to win them over and we have to have their confidence that this is the right thing to do.''

British leaders have been reluctant to use vaccination because it would lengthen the time the country needs to regain its ``foot-and-mouth-free'' status after the disease is eradicated.

``Vaccination is a nonstarter for Scottish agriculture, and we would be losing the markets on which we in Scotland depend,'' said Donald Biggar, whose entire herd of 175 cattle and 350 sheep were slaughtered because of the epidemic.

Blair is also nearing a decision on whether to call a national election on May 3. The archbishop of York, a leader of the Church of England, has joined on those calling for a delay.

``There is clearly a very strong feeling in the farming community that there should not be an election at the moment,'' the Right. Rev. David Hope told The Times newspaper in an interview published Friday.

An election would be seen by rural residents ``as a further lack of understanding and sensitivity to the depth of the crisis,'' he added.

Visiting the hard-hit Dumfries and Galloway region in Scotland on Friday, Blair refused to talk about election timing.

``I have nothing more to say on that than I have said before,'' Blair told reporters.

``My priority is to concentrate on making sure we get on top of, control and eradicate the disease and make sure we can get a decent future for the farmers.''

Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers Union in Scotland, said his members were not interested in the election issue _ ``and they just wouldn't go out and vote at the moment for politicians from any party.''

The Irish Republic got good news Friday when tests on a suspected second case of foot-and-mouth disease proved negative. So far there has been a single case each in the republic and in British-ruled Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, Brid Rogers, said she hoped to apply within days to have all restrictions lifted, since this weekend will be 30 days since the region's only case was detected.

With 780 cases of the fast-spreading livestock disease confirmed in Britain, opposition leader William Hague has urged Blair not to put ``party before country'' in a time of crisis.

The deadline for calling a May 3 election is April 6. The government fears canceling the vote would send out the message that Britain is shut to visitors. Ministers have repeatedly stressed that, despite the closure of many parks, footpaths and rural attractions, the country is open for business.

Nearly half a million head of livestock have been killed since the disease was detected last month, and at least another 250,000 have been earmarked for slaughter.

Foot-and-mouth is harmless to humans and does not normally kill animals, but it devastates trade because most nations close their doors to meat exports from infected nations.