There is only a low risk that foot and mouth disease will spread outside Surrey, the chief vet said today, despite confirming that cattle at a third farm in the area had been culled. Announcing the lifting of some restrictions on animal movement, Debby Reynolds said the risk of the virus spreading outside the Surrey surveillance zone was "low but not negligible". The chief veterinary officer said the collection of dead animals and the movement of animals to slaughterhouses would be permitted under licence from midnight tonight. But she also said cattle had been slaughtered at a third farm in Surrey as a precaution. Ms Reynolds said: "We have got two infected premises and a new premise that has been culled on suspicion." The farm is next to the site of the second suspected case of the disease, and close to the Pirbright laboratories where foot and mouth vaccines are being developed.
The Welsh rural affairs minister, Elin Jones, announced a similar relaxation of restrictions on animal movements in Wales. Scottish farmers were granted permission to move cattle under licence from midnight last night. Ms Reynolds stressed that other restrictions remained in place and that movements would be allowed only on condition of strict biosecurity measures being followed.
Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers' Union, welcomed the announcement.
He said: "This is a measured and very necessary first step on the road towards getting the industry back to normal and maintaining supplies of home-produced meat to consumers, but it should not be taken in any way as a signal that we can afford to drop our guard. "It is as vital as ever that livestock farmers remain vigilant, check their stock regularly and report anything suspicious immediately."
A ban on meat exports from the UK remains in place, the European Commission said today.
Meanwhile, the privately run laboratory at the centre of the investigation into the source of outbreak insisted there was no evidence of a breach in its biosecurity.
Merial Animal Health said it "acknowledges" an initial report by the Health and Safety Executive which said there was a "strong probability" that its Pirbright lab, or the Institute for Animal Health on the same site, was the source of the outbreak. But Merial said its own investigation had found no evidence that the virus had spread from its centre via humans. Both Pirbright laboratories were working on the foot and mouth strain found at the site of the first outbreak. Merial was producing it in large quantities for vaccines while the IAH was using small amounts for research. In a statement, Merial said: "Over the last three-and-a-half days we have conducted intensive internal investigations and, as a result, continue to have complete confidence in our processes and procedures for health, safety and environmental protection, quality control, quality assurance and regulatory compliance. "To date, we have not been able to establish any evidence that the virus may have been transported out of our centre by humans." The firm also rejected suggestions that wastewater it released into the environment might have been a possible cause of the outbreak.
The statement continued: "We wish to clarify that Merial does not release water from the shared Pirbright site. We ensure that the water we use in our virus production is treated, we then transfer it to the IAH who treat it further and release it."
Merial said it would continue to cooperate with the HSE investigation into the outbreak.
Meanwhile, the environment secretary, Hilary Benn, admitted the government had to look at the possibility that the outbreak was the result of sabotage. Asked if deliberate human contamination was the cause, Ms Benn said: "The truth is, we don't know. We're very anxious."
The HSE report, released last night, ruled out airborne transmission of the virus and suggested that the risk of waterborne transmission alone was negligible. But it did not rule out the possibility that flooding may have played a role. If surface water on the Pirbright site became contaminated, someone moving from the facility to surrounding land could have carried the virus on his or her footwear.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said last night it would investigate unconfirmed reports that a worker at one of the Pirbright labs had an allotment near the farm where the outbreak was first detected on Friday. Merial has voluntarily halted commercial production at the Pirbright site, but is producing 300,000 doses of foot and mouth vaccine for the government. Experts say this poses no risk because the vaccine does not involve the use of a live virus. (Source)
Now personally I think that lowering the restrictions on the transportation of live stock is a bad move, I know that the industry does need to get things going again after spending about 3 and a half weeks with a possile loss of £20 million per week and no movement, but after everything I have read over the past week or so I can not help thinking about how fast the virus jumped from Essex to Heddon on the Wall in the 2001 epidemic and how eager the authorities seem to be now to just forget any of this ever happened. Now with regards to the movement of live stock and how it would be allowed only on condition of strict biosecurity measures being followed, maybe I am becoming cynical but I have a small problem in the belief that these "Strict biosecurity measures will be followed", after all it seems that even high security research laboratories seem to have a problem following these measures, and these are the experts in this type of thing.
Finaly to end I find totally absurd how a laboratory at the center of a foot and mouth outbreak can still profit from something they have caused out of their negligence. Any other company who is under investigation by about half a dozed government agancies would not at the same time of the investigation "Sell" 300,000 units of an antidote for an outbreak they caused. you only see this kind of stuff in a movie, picture it. The Chemical company releases a virus on a small town and then sells the antidote for the virus to the government. Am I the only one who thinks that this is kind of weird?
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