Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Latest Foot and Mouth Case Baffles Ministers; Sealed Off: The Farm in Egham Hit by the Outbreak

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Latest Foot and Mouth Case Baffles Ministers; Sealed Off: The Farm in Egham Hit by the Outbreak

Article excerpt


THE Government faced farmers' fury today as ministers admitted they werebaffled over the cause of the latest outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said he was "puzzled" why the deadly strainhad emerged again just days after his department's scientists had given theall-clear.

Scientists are expected to confirm today that the latest outbreak at Egham inSurrey is the same strain as the one at nearby Pirbright which was possiblycaused by a bio-security breach at a government-run laboratory.

Preliminary results have suggested it is the same virus, raising awkwardquestions for the Government.

Mr Benn denied vehemently he and other ministers had leant on officials toraise the ban prematurely.

Asked to explain how a second outbreak had occurred so quickly after theall-clear, Mr Benn said: "The situation has changed. It may well be that thisis a continuation, we don't know that for sure but the means of dealing with itare exactly the same: a national movement ban, a protection zone and thevigilance of farmers." He stressed that the test to identify the strain wouldbe revealed today.

"The question of course is whether this is, in effect, a continuation of theprevious outbreak.

What is puzzling is more than a month has elapsed since the last confirmedcase." He added that arrangements had been put in place to immunise livestock.

The Government is anxious to avoid a repeat of the scenes six years ago whichsaw thousands of cattle slaughtered and burnt on mass funeral pyres across thecountry.

In a worrying development, the Department for Environment, Food and RuralAffairs revealed this morning that tests were being carried out in Norfolk onanother suspected outbreak.

A temporary control zone was put around the premises yesterday afternoon andtest results are expected to be known today, said a Defra spokeswoman.

"This is a precautionary measure. An assessment of clinical symptoms by animalhealth veterinary staff has been carried out, and laboratory test results areawaited. At this stage disease has not been confirmed," she said.

The outbreak threw the Government on to the defensive as Conservative leaderDavid Cameron accused ministers of lifting the ban too hastily and urged GordonBrown to "get a grip".

Allies of the Prime Minister hit back, accusing Mr Cameron of using the crisisas a political football.

"The way David Cameron is behaving is despicable, he cannot claim to be actingin the national interest," said a source close to Mr Brown.

Professor Brian Spratt, of Imperial College London, produced a report into thebiosecurity leak at Pirbright which led to last month's outbreak.

He said the Egham case was likely to involve the same strain of virus.

"It's very concerning and very depressing because I think that Defra put inplace all the right measures and a week and a half ago they seemed to have itcompletely under control and everybody was congratulating Defra on a fantasticjob of controlling this outbreak," he said. …

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