THE Government last night launched a damage limitation exercise to calm fears of an autumn foot-and-mouth cull - and landed itself in more hot water.

The Northern Echo revealed yesterday how Government officials have drawn up contingency plans to slaughter up to 4.5 million animals if the disease cannot be beaten.

However, Food Chain Minister Lord Whitty told Radio Four's PM programme yesterday that a document obtained by The Northern Echo was written before foot-and-mouth gripped the country.

Unfortunately, he was talking about the wrong paper. The document obtained by The Northern Echo was written just a few weeks ago.

Last night, campaigners fighting for the closure of a mass burial site in Tow Law, County Durham, criticised his comments as rubbish.

Peter Lister, who is at the forefront of taking a legal campaign against the site to Europe, said: "The short answer is they have been caught with their trousers down and they don't like it.

"It could not possibly have been written before the site opened on April 6. Apart from anything else, it would be impossible for them to be aware of the legal action we are taking against them."

Mr Lister presented the document, along with The Echo's story, to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (Defra) at a community liaison meeting in Tow Law yesterday, but it was not prepared to comment.

When the article was put to Lord Whitty, he said: "If the source is the one I think it is, then it is old news.''

Mr Lister said: "It's just waffle. We have had enough waffle from Nick Brown, it is a great shame for all concerned if we are going to get the same thing from Lord Whitty.''

Further cases of foot-and-mouth disease were confirmed in North Yorkshire yesterday, taking the total in the county to 131.

New cases were revealed at Mount Pleasant, Arden, near Hawnby, and at Lowfield Farm, Beamsley, Bolton Abbey, near Skipton.

Anne MacIntosh, Tory MP for Vale of York, said she was alarmed by the document.

"If true, it confirms we are looking at a meltdown of the livestock industry," she said.

The MP is writing to Agriculture Secretary Margaret Beckett, asking her to confirm the document is authentic.

Read more about foot-and-mouth here.