New foot-and-mouth case suspected

A new foot-and-mouth case is feared in Surrey. It was discovered outside the existing surveillance zone.

A new foot-and-mouth case is feared in Surrey. It was discovered outside the existing surveillance zone.

A 3km temporary control zone has been set up near Dorking - about 10 miles east of the original outbreak - after an "inconclusive assessment" of symptoms in cattle, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

The news came as hauliers and abattoir staff across East Anglia were faced with new strict biosecurity measures as the industry returned to work.

Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said: "This is a developing disease situation. The containment and eradication of foot and mouth disease remains our priority. This is why we have moved swiftly to put in place a temporary control zone while we investigate this development. At this stage disease has not been confirmed, laboratory results will follow.''

Ms Reynolds, breaking off from a late-night meeting, said: "It's a clinical suspicion and as a precaution we're putting in a temporary control zone, three-kilometre radius around the farm.''

She added that it was "mild'' illness in the cattle.

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In the original outbreaks, the infected cattle had been grazing at two sites in the village of Normandy, near Guildford, which is close to a research facility in Pirbright, Surrey.

Investigations into the cause of the outbreak have focused on this establishment as the laboratory is shared between the Institute for Animal Health (IAH), a diagnostic and research centre, and the pharmaceutical company Merial Animal Health, whose work includes manufacturing vaccines.

Hugh Broom, of the National Farmers' Union, said the suspected case was "very worrying'' and urged farmers to keep on top of biosecurity.

He said: "Farmers in Surrey are taking biosecurity seriously and we would urge them to keep that up regardless of who is to blame.

"People are going to be even more apprehensive than they have been throughout the whole of this.

"It won't come as welcome news if a third case is confirmed in the county. It will be worrying for members here and farmers elsewhere in the country.''

The suspected new case of foot and mouth comes as a scientist helping to investigate the cause of the outbreak suggested the infections may have been caused deliberately, it was reported.

Dr Andrew King, employed by the IAH to establish if the virus could have escaped from the Pirbright research facility, said the incident was a matter for the police.

The scientist told the Times: "As far as I am concerned the authorities have failed to find any chink in the armoury of the establishment's biosecurity.

"What you are left with is human movement which is not a matter for the institute, it's a police matter. It's very very unlikely that it could be spread by accident. People do not spread the disease easily.''

Concerns that the outbreak was caused by live virus escaping into the environment via the Pirbright research facility's drainage system were effectively ruled out last night.

Professor Martin Shirley, director of the IAH, said measures to ensure viruses did not enter the water system from his organisation were working properly.

A back-up effluent treatment system which further treats water leaving the IAH and the nearby Merial Animal Health had no reported problems.

Another development last night saw a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into a suspected case of legionella contamination at the IAH class levels of the organism as "insignificant'' and "so low that the HSE require no further action''.

The contamination was discovered during an inspection of the Pirbright research centre which was one of several locations being routinely assessed, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

It is believed the case of Legionnaires' disease pre-dates the outbreak of foot and mouth, and the HPA has already confirmed that the two are not linked.

In total, 576 animals, including cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, have been slaughtered since the outbreak began, Defra said.

Restrictions on the movement of livestock directly from farms to slaughterhouses and the collection of dead animals have now been relaxed, although a ban on all other movements of susceptible animals remains in place.

A European Union ban on the export of British meat also remains in place. It is expected to remain until August 25 but a review will be undertaken by the EU's Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health on August 23, when a new decision could be taken.

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