Foot and mouth - Gordon Brown statement

Prime minister Gordon Brown today promised the authorities were doing “everything in our power” to ensure the outbreak of foot and mouth disease does not develop into a repeat of the devastating epidemic of 2001.

Prime minister Gordon Brown today promised the authorities were doing “everything in our power” to ensure the outbreak of foot and mouth disease does not develop into a repeat of the devastating epidemic of 2001.

Speaking at 10 Downing Street after chairing the second meeting of the government's emergency Cobra committee, Mr Brown said a number of inquiries had already been set up to establish the source of the disease in Surrey “within hours and days”.

He said his top priority was to act “quickly and decisively” to halt the spread of the infection.

Asked if there was a danger of an epidemic on the scale of 2001, he said: “We are doing everything in our power to avoid a repeat of those incidents.”

Mr Brown, who broke off from his holiday in Dorset to take charge of the government's response to the crisis, said he wanted to thank farmers and members of rural communities for their co-operation with official efforts to prevent the disease spreading.

He said Cobra would meet again later today in order for him and other ministers to be updated on events.

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“We will be doing, night and day, everything in our power to make sure that what happens, happens quickly and happens decisively in a way that can reassure people that everything is being done.”

Mr Brown was speaking immediately after this morning's meeting of Cobra, attended among others by environment secretary Hilary Benn, cabinet office minister Ed Miliband and chief vet Debby Reynolds.

He took part in a previous Cobra discussion last night by telephone from Dorset.

Mr Brown said: “I want to thank the farming communities and indeed all rural communities for their tremendous co-operation and for the forbearance and patience that has been shown in what I know is a very anxious time for our rural communities.

“I want to thank people, not just for their patience and forbearance, but for everything they have done to support the efforts that have been made by the authorities.

“Our first priority has been to act quickly and decisively. That is why we have a national ban already imposed on the movement of sheep and pigs and cattle.

“That is why we have acted to create exclusion zones that are already in existence. That is why also the culling of the herd in the infected area is already taking place.

“We have put in place all the measures that are necessary while we look at the scientific evidence.”

He added: “The second priority is to ensure the co-ordination that is necessary is actually taking place. That is why we have had an emergency meeting of the government national committee.

“That is why a regional disease control centre has been set up in Reigate and that is why we will take any measures that are necessary to make sure that there is no spread of this disease, to prevent anything that may go wrong.

“That is why a helpline has been instituted and I believe that farmers can get information and we will step up our efforts to provide information to people in farming communities.”

Mr Brown continued: “The third priority is to get to the source of this disease. That is why we have set up a number of inquiries immediately and that is why also I can assure people in the farming communities and rural communities in every part of the country, we are doing everything in our power to look at the scientific evidence to get to the bottom of what has happened and then to eradicate this disease.

“The national committee that I chair will meet later today. We will also be having an update and reports from those people in charge of monitoring what is happening and there will be a further statement later this afternoon.”

Mr Brown added: “I also want to say that I understand the anxieties and the worries that will be there at the moment.

“That's why we want to do everything in our power immediately to get to the scientific evidence, to look at the source of what has happened, to set up a number of inquiries so we can know very quickly - I mean within hours and days - what has actually happened and then to eradicate this disease.”

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