Foot-and-mouth disease alert

Farmers are hoping that tests for a possible case of foot-and-mouth disease at an Essex abattoir prove negative later today.

Farmers are hoping that tests for a possible case of foot-and-mouth disease at an Essex abattoir prove negative later today.

Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said a pig, reported to have signs of facial blistering, was under investigation. Samples have been taken to check whether it could be either a case of foot-and-mouth disease or swine vesicular disease.

Movement restrictions have been imposed around Cheale Meats' abattoir near Brentford, where the suspected case has been found.

The signs of swine vesicular disease (SVD) are almost identical to foot and mouth disease, which was also detected in February 2001. It later led to the world's worst epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease when the infected sow was traced back to a Northumberland farm, where the disease had been thought to be incubating for some two or three weeks.

The last confirmed case of SVD in Britain was found in 1982.

Results of tests are likely to be known later today. Pig farmers have voiced acute concerns if SVD has been introduced to this country. "If it is confirmed then it must have come from abroad. Once again it shows the need for the very highest and strict standards of animal and plant health inspection at our ports," said leading Norfolk pig farmer Jimmy Butler.