Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Is Foot & Mouth Back?

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Is Foot & Mouth Back?

Article excerpt

Byline: PIERRE WILLIAMS;HUMFREY HUNTER

BRITAIN'S farmers are bracing themselves for another catastrophe as government laboratories worked all night to find out if the country is facing a fresh wave of foot-and-mouth disease.

Ministers banned all movements of farm animals for a five-mile radius around a farm at Hawnby, near Thirsk on the North Yorkshire moors, after officials found highly-suspect lesions in the mouths of two sheep during a routine inspection.

Samples from both animals were rushed to the Institute of Animal Health in Pirbright, Surrey, where scientists are expecting to announce the results of their tests later this morning.

As well as ordering the immediate ban of animal movements in the area, the farm was sealed off and both suspect animals slaughtered.

The process of tracing and placing restrictions on all farms which had recently supplied sheep to the suspect farm was also begun, although early reports suggested no animals had been brought to the farm since August last year, increasing hopes that the disease can be contained it it is eventually diagnosed.

The last case of the disease in Yorkshire was on 18 August with the final confirmed case anywhere in the country on 30 September last year.

Although restrictions on the restocking of animals are now much tougher than they were following the last epidemic in 1967 - which saw a series of subsequent minor outbreaks - the virus is known to be able to survive for months, especially in cold, damp conditions.

Another possible cause could be that the virus has continued to exist at much lower levels in some animals which showed no symptoms of having the disease.

The Environment Agency is also carrying out investigations to identify farms where infected material was illegally buried to save on cleaning costs during the height of the epidemic.

The country has only just been given clearance to resume unrestricted exports of meat - a reprieve for the battered farming industry that will be immediately reversed if these latest cases are confirmed.

Farms Minister Elliot Morley says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is ready for immediate action to tackle any renewed outbreak of the disease.

He said: "It is too early to say if this will be the first case of the disease since last September.

The laboratory tests, which can take between four and 96 hours, will have to be completed first.

"We must take no chances with this very infectious disease. The Department thoroughly investigates all suspect cases, precautionary measures are put in place and we stand ready to take immediate action if the tests show positive.

"This suspect case underlines the need for farmers and vets to remain vigilant during the restocking period and during the lambing season. …

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