Foot and mouth nightmare

The farming community was anxiously holding its breath today after confirmation of one of the industry's worst possible nightmares - the return of foot and mouth disease.

The farming community was anxiously holding its breath today after confirmation of one of the industry's worst possible nightmares - the return of foot and mouth disease.

Cobra, the government's emergency committee, was this morning meeting for a second time in response to the news. They met last night and heard chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds confirm the outbreak and give her view that it was too early to tell how serious it might be.

Prime minister Gordon Brown and environment secretary Hilary Benn cancelled their holidays to return to London to deal with the infection, which is on a farm near Guildford, in Surrey.

Defra has imposed a three kilometre protection zone and a 10 kilometre surveillance zone around the farm and a nationwide ban on the movement of all sheep, cattle and pigs has been put in place.

All the cattle on the infected farm are to be culled and the initial results from scientific analysis of the virus could be available as early as today, although it may take longer depending on the exact strain involved.

Once the strain has been identified, experts will check to see whether relevant vaccines are available in the British or European vaccine banks.

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The outbreak raised the spectre of the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001, which brought chaos to Britain and left farming and tourist industries devastated, with between 6.5 and 10 million animals slaughtered and a final bill of some £8.5bn.

A Defra spokesman said “Nationally no animal movements are allowed except under licence, controls are in place on movement of animal carcasses, animal gatherings, shearing and dipping are restricted, and all farms must increase levels of biosecurity.”

Michael More-Molyneux, of 1400-acre Loseley Farm, which is just five miles from the infected site, said he was hopeful there would not be a repeat of the devastation of 2001.

“Luckily for us, the wind is going from north to south so it is not coming in our direction.

“The other thing is that hopefully they have got on top of it in time. They were much quicker off the mark than last time round.”

Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said the farming industry would not oppose the use of vaccination of livestock if that was the scientific advice.

And he added: “I think the government reacted well last night in immediately restricting and banning all movements.”

Alex Butler-Zagni, regional policy advisor for East Anglia NFU in Newmarket, told the EDP today that both they as an organisation and their members were looking for clarification on some points, but that emphasis had to be on biosecurity and vigilance.

“We are giving advice to our members, such as avoid visiting other farms unless absolutely necessary, keep everything clean and avoid mixing different types of animals.

“We have a very good relationship with the animal health office and will work with them closely.

“The welfare of animals is at the forefront of the minds of all our members, as it always is.”

Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: “This outbreak is yet another blow for a beleaguered agricultural industry still reeling under the effects of flooding and only now getting over the last bout of this disease.

“The countryside will need all the support it can get from the government.”

RSPCA director general Jackie Ballard said: “Everything must be done to make sure we do not see a return to the appalling mass slaughter of farm animals that occurred during the last outbreak.

“There was widespread public revulsion at the funeral pyres and mass killing, and animal welfare seemed to be the lowest priority for the authorities. That must not be allowed to happen again.”

Meanwhile, a number of country shows around the country have been cancelled already, including the Emley Show in West Yorkshire and the Cockermouth Show in Cumbria, despite their distance from the outbreak in the south.

Darrie Goodfellow, chairman of the Cockermouth Show, expressed his disappointment: “We heard the news last night and organised a meeting. A lot of the committee were up all night and after a lot of deliberation we decided to cancel.

“This is mainly because we have had foot and mouth disease in the area before and we do not want to do anything wrong for the farmers.”

He estimated the show's cancellation cost would be somewhere in the region of £20,000.

In Norfolk the Wayland Show will go ahead on Sunday, but without cattle, pigs, sheep or goats. Organisers of other shows in the coming weeks, such as the Aylsham Show on August bank holiday Monday, have not yet made final decisions on what will happen.

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