The long-term impact of the food and mouth crisis on the UK is now starting to be calculated. The London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research is estimating a £9bn hit for the UK economy.

The human and emotional cost can be seen in agricultural communities around the country, with the threatened loss of livelihoods and shattered dreams as herds are slaughtered and burned.

The economic cost, however, is not so easy to pin-point, except that agriculture is unlikely to be the biggest loser financially, nor is the British countryside the sole victim.

The Centre for Economic and Business Research believes that the loss to farming and its accompanying supply industry will be something in the region of £3.6bn. The cost to UK tourism could be almost double that.

The Centre suggests a direct loss of £6.4bn, offset only by an estimated £1bn increase to urban entertainment as town-dwellers stay at home. But the damage to tourism is being felt wider as not only are domestic visitors cancelling their rural trips, but overseas visitors are beginning to avoid UK altogether û whether rightly or not.

It may seem too early to start contemplating the lessons to be learned from this epidemic, but changes will have to be made, especially to both rural priorities in Britain and to the farming end of the food production chain.

Agricultural should face stiffer controls and a form of licensing not unfamiliar further along the food production process. It may be more red tape, but it is surely the type worth living with.

The wider question is the use to which the British countryside should be put in the future and the economic priorities the UK Government should support. Agriculture is no longer the lead industry, as the financial facts of the current crisis have clearly demonstrated.

It is time for needs of tourism and other industries to be brought to the fore.

A vocal minority of country people seem to believe that the countryside exclusively belongs to them and that they are in some sort of war with the Government to protect their unique way of life. A columnist in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper last week wrote critically of New Labour's "misguided rural vision" of "theme-park" countryside.

Well, Theme Park UK may not be such a bad idea if that means a long-term sustainable rural economy for Britain.