Farmers braced for worst over virus

Farmers across East Anglia were braced last night for the worst after Britain's first ever case of the bluetongue virus was found on a farm in Suffolk.

Farmers across East Anglia were braced last night for the worst, after Britain's first ever case of the bluetongue virus was found on a farm in Suffolk.

Defra's chief vet Debby Reynolds confirmed yesterday that a Highland cow on a rare-breed farm six miles from Ipswich was culled after testing positive for the same strain of the disease which is already rife in northern Europe.

There have been about 4,000 cases of virus-type 8 bluetongue in Belgium, Holland, northern France and Germany since August 2006 - and hundreds of thousands of cattle, sheep and goats have been slaughtered as part of an eradication programme.

Leading scientists said that the disease - which has a mortality rate of 70pc in sheep, but no implications for human health - could have spread to Britain by midges blown across the sea from the continent.

UK farmers' leaders said last night they were hopeful the Suffolk case was a one-off and that test results on other cattle, goats and a flock of 100 sheep at Baylham Rare Breed Farm, near Coddenham, would prove negative.

The farm's owners, the Storer family, spoke of how they first feared the Highland cow, called Debbie, was suffering from foot-and-mouth - only to discover last Thursday that all livestock on the farm would have to be tested for bluetongue.

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Prime minister Gordon Brown chaired a meeting of the government's Cobra emergencies committee in Whitehall to review the bluetongue situation before leaving for the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.

But agriculture minister Lord Rooker told a Labour party fringe

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