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Gildernew makes Assembly statement on Foot and Mouth Disease

10 September, 2007

Sinn Féin Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA has updated the Assembly on her actions during the recent Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in Britain.

During the statement the Minister emphasised that her actions, and those of her Department, were 'swift, decisive and proportionate to the level of FMD threat we faced'.

The Minister outlined how she took the decision, immediately the outbreak was confirmed on Friday night, to close the Ports and to place an immediate ban on the import from Britain of fresh meat from susceptible animals and unpasteurised milk.

The Minister stated that:

"Over that first weekend of the outbreak, my officials traced and examined all consignments of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs which had been imported from Britain, or which had transited to Britain, since the beginning of July. All examinations were negative, which gave me assurance that no disease had spread to the North, and none had originated from the infected zones in England. Appropriate biosecurity measures were introduced at ports and airports and farmers were asked to be vigilant."

Turning to trade issues the Minister said:

"Our agri-food industry here has high dependency on external markets with sales to destinations valued at around £1.6billion per annum. The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain had therefore the potential to have a significant adverse impact on the local economy. My main efforts were therefore focused on protecting our trading status with the rest of Ireland, Britain, Member States and non - EU countries and to ensure that it was business as usual.

"In order to do this I had to get the EU to recognise the unique position of the North and to emphasise to them that for disease control purposes, we are a separate epidemiological unit from Britain.

"Whilst we were able to secure EU recognition of the North as a separate region from Britain, the EU Decision on Foot and Mouth still required DARD to provide official certificates to accompany consignments for EU trade.

"The official status of the certificate was emphasised by the inclusion of the DARD logo. A bold statement was added at the start of the certificate indicating that we are free from Foot and Mouth Disease, and the exporting country was clearly identified as this region in large bold print. These changes were warmly welcomed by the exporters of meat and dairy products."

The Minister also said:

"I am particularly grateful to the First and deputy First Minister for their support; to the First Minister for his personal intervention to the Japanese Ambassador in London when Japan refused to accept our product, and to the deputy First Minister who held important discussions with the US authorities. I am also grateful to my Executive colleagues and the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee for their engagement and support." ENDS

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