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Today's statement by the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor that the foot and mouth outbreak is "flattening out" show that the current measures to tackle the disease are working, painful though they are for farmers.

NFU President Ben Gill said: "This is more encouraging evidence that the current slaughter and destruction policy is having the desired effect.

"The figures produced by Professor David King are a vindication of the measures, terrible though they are, that have had to be taken.

"It is a small sign of light at the end of the tunnel. But it must not be forgotten that for farmers going through this, the feeling of despair is still as dire as on day one of this crisis."

Mr Gill said the hopeful news must spur on everyone involved in the fight against the disease to bring to bear the maximum possible effort.

He said: "The process of slaughter and destruction must continue to be speeded up if we are to see further improvements. This is especially critical in the worst affected areas where farmers remain deeply concerned at the current progress.

"And farmers must not fooled into thinking that we can now be complacent. We continue to stress daily to farmers that the most stringent of precautions must be followed.

"This includes strict disinfection routines for individuals and vehicles going off and on farms. At this stage in the fight, it would be criminal if we were to let our guard down."

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