“I want to take this opportunity to update the media on the current position in Northern Ireland in relation to Foot and Mouth Disease.

As I indicated when I spoke to you at lunch time we have been carrying out investigations on a farm at Meigh in South Armagh to which we had reason to believe that sheep which had been sourced in a market at Carlisle had been brought. The sheep were imported on 19 February which was before the ban on imports from Great Britain was imposed. It had been known that animals from farms infected with Foot and Mouth Disease had passed through Carlisle market.

Department veterinarians have been on the farm all day today checking the animals. Samples have been taken and will be sent to the laboratory at Pirbright. Slaughter of all the animals has now commenced and the carcases will be incinerated. Slaughter will be carried out by lethal injection. Tracing of other contact animals has also commenced. I can confirm that on examination at slaughter, some of the sheep presented symptoms which are consistent with Foot and Mouth Disease. I have to tell you that it is now my belief that we are looking at an outbreak of this disease in Northern Ireland. However, as I indicated earlier, we will have to await confirmation from Pirbright.

Because of this deterioration in the situation we will now be carrying out immediate surveillance on neighbouring farms. However, as yet, no decision has been taken to slaughter any animals other than those on the farm in question.

I have advised Executive colleagues and the Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee of the current situation. The Department has been in touch with the Departments in London and Dublin and I have spoken to Joe Walsh.

I also have to tell you that we are viewing with concern a sheep which was delivered today to the Veterinary Laboratory in Omagh. This sheep which is from a farm in the Castlederg area presented symptoms suggestive of Foot and Mouth Disease. We are sending samples from that animal to Pirbright tonight as well. However a clinical examination on the farm has indicated no sign of any other symptoms.

We had reports that several animals in a processing plant were showing signs suggestive of Foot and Mouth Disease and the plant volunteered to close. However, following a detailed examination of the herd Department Vets have informed me that this is a “cold” suspect as there are no signs of the disease in any of the animals.

In light of developments in south Armagh and, as I also indicated earlier today, I will now be introducing further measures to help prevent further introduction of the disease and to contain the current outbreak, if indeed that is confirmed. These are as follows:

  • a ban on the movement of susceptible animals (ie, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and deer) other than for slaughter, until further notice;
  • a ban on farm-to-farm collection of animals for slaughter, until further notice
  • a formal ban on the holding of livestock auctions and markets until further notice;
  • a ban on the movement of horses to, from or within Northern Ireland for a period of at least 3 weeks;
  • an extension of the temporary closure of the DARD Agricultural Colleges until further notice. However we are looking at alternative ways of delivering the courses.
  • a tightening of our controls on the production of pig swill;
  • a reduction of our testing of cattle for tuberculosis and brucellosis to the minimum and a restriction on DARD visits to farms in connection with BSE, as far as possible;
  • advice to the organisers of large events and gatherings to postpone such events for the time being;
  • advice to members of the public not to visit the countryside unnecessarily until further notice; an increase in our controls on the export of the relevant animals and products to other Member States, especially to the Republic of Ireland. 

I will be reviewing the adequacy of all these measures on a daily basis and will add to them or lift them as appropriate.

I regret the need for these steps and would again ask for everyone’s continued co-operation in dealing with this potentially very serious situation.

I appreciate the responsible attitude which members of the public and the farming community have shown since this emergency began. I want to re-emphasise the need for vigilance and for the concept of fortress farms. I would again strongly advise against any gatherings of farmers or of people on farms. I would again ask the public to keep away from farms and farmland except where it is vital for the delivery of essential services. Organisers of sporting events should consider whether it is really necessary for them to go ahead. If they are in doubt, they should seek my Department’s advice through the use of the help lines.

I also want to say that I appreciate the interest of the media in this subject and their anxiety to keep the public informed. I want to help you as much as I can to achieve this objective. However you too have a major responsibility as regards observing the precautions I have outlined above.

I know that some of these precautions are going to be inconvenient. However it is imperative that everybody does everything possible to prevent the introduction and spread of this disease. I know that great hardship is being caused for farmers and that collection of milk supplies is becoming extremely difficult”.

just-food.com published a feature on foot and mouth. To read it, click here.