ANATOMY OF AN OUTBREAK
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is confirmed in cattle on a farm in Surrey. Debby Reynolds, the UK's chief veterinary officer, announ-ces a three-kilometre protection zone, along with a 10km surveillance zone. All movement of live animals to slaughter is banned throughout the UK.
Details are sketchy on the farm at the heart of the outbreak, suspected to be a finishing unit, but all cattle is to be culled.
Both Defra minister Hilary Benn and prime minister Gordon Brown cut short their holidays to respond to the crisis.
Shows and sales grind to a halt as further checks are made around the area of the outbreak. First suggestions begin to emerge that the source of the outbreak may
be from the nearby Pirbright
Laboratory. Reynolds asks for
biosecurity arrangements at Pirbright to be investigated as a
possible source. Farmers are
encouraged to check livestock for symptoms and are urged to
respect the movement ban.
Exports of animals and animals products are halted as an automatic ban is imposed by the UK government. The ban is
expected to last a minimum of three months from the time the UK is declared free of the disease, unless it can be shown to be an isolated incident, enabling the ban to be treated regionally.
Prime minister Gordon Brown, back from holiday in Dorset to head an emergency meeting of the Cobra ministerial committee, says: "I want to do everything in our power immediately to get to the scientific evidence, to look at the source of what has happened and to set up a number of inquiries so that we can move very quickly. Night and day, we will be doing everything in our power to make sure that what happens, happens quickly and decisively, in a way that can reassure people that everything is being done."
Evidence mounts against the Pirbright facility as the farmer at the centre of the outbreak is named by the papers. The Pirbright Laboratory is home to the government-funded BBSRC Institute for Animal Health, which researches foot-and-mouth and has over 5,000 strains in store, and US animal health company Merial, which last manufactured the foot-and-mouth vaccine on July 15. Particular blame is laid at the door of Merial, with a number of Sunday tabloids claiming the virus was leaked from the "US lab".
The farmer is named as Derrick Pride, 78, who runs a farm and shop in Elstead, Surrey, although it is later revealed that the family business is run by his son, Roger. A number of other suspected cases across the south-east of England prove to be false alarms.
Farmers react angrily to the news that the Pirbright site might be the source of the infection. "Livestock farmers throughout the country will be in a state of anger and amazement to think that a site concerned with animal health may have allowed this terrible
virus to get into our farming stock," says Peter King, chief livestock adviser with the NFU.
Both facilities in Pirbright deny there has been any breach of their biosecurity systems.
Reports begin to emerge that the ban on British meat exports is likely to cost the industry around £10m a week, according to EBLEX. Producers across the UK call on the big supermarkets to support them during the crisis.
Gordon Brown meets with farming industry leaders to discuss animal movements, vaccination, animal welfare and the difficulties presented to livestock farmers
during the outbreak. At the mee-ting it is agreed that the absolute priority is to get the disease under control and ensure its complete eradication. The British Meat
Processors Association (BMPA) agrees the priority should be on containment, but with its members losing tens of thousands of pounds a day, it urges the government to move to a system that allows animals to be moved to slaughter as soon as possible.
Investigations by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) into the Pirbright laboratory facilities continue, with reports indicating flooding might have been the cause of the outbreak.Meanwhile, the European Commission
declares the whole of GB a high-risk zone, from which livestock and meat cannot be exported. The EC's interim protection measures reinforce those taken by the UK
authorities. Northern Ireland is
exempt from the conditions.
A second case of FMD is
confirmed by Defra minister
Hilary Benn. The case is within the 3km protection zone and up to 100 cows are culled at the farm after overnight tests confirm the animals have FMD. The second farm is close to the site of the first outbreak. NFU leaders say that, while the news is a blow, it is not unexpected.
Chief vet Debbie Reynolds says no decision has been made on the use of vaccine, but reports revealed the government has
ordered 300,000 doses from
Merial, the suspected source of the outbreak, which sends ripples of outrage through the industry.
Meanwhile, meat bosses take action to support the sector by moving promotional plans forward, to encourage consumers to support Quality Standard Mark beef and lamb. "We believe consumers will want to show their support for livestock farmers in the wake of recent events, and they can do so by asking for, and buying Quality Standard Mark beef and lamb," says John Cross, chairman of EBLEX.
A giant sheep bearing the EBLEX Quality Standard Mark is set to be unveiled on a hillside beside the M62 in Bradford to mark the start of the latest campaign, which will see print and television advertisements run throughout the autumn.
Optimism is still alive, however, with the National Federation of Meat Traders hopeful of a swift end to the crisis. Graham Bidston, chief executive, says his members are reasonably calm and adds it is encouraging that the disease has not spread over the country.
However, both the NFMFT and the BMPA express fears that supplies are running dry and repeat calls on the government to move to a system that allows movement to slaughter.
The farmer at the heart of the outbreak, Roger Pride, also speaks of his shock and devastation at the discovery of the disease on his farm and says he believes a flooded
sewer may have been responsible.
English and Welsh frustrations at the failure of the government to commit to a date for movement to slaughter are compounded by the Scottish Executive's decision to allow movement and begin approving slaughterhouses from midnight. The continuing search for a cause of the disease leads to the Health & Safety Executive announcing there is a "strong probability" the FMD outbreak began at the Pirbright research site, but, it does not specify which facility was to blame. It adds there was a "negligible" risk it had been spread by the wind or flooding. But its report says the disease could have been the result of human movement or "accidental or deliberate transfer".
The NFU says it will consider taking legal action against anyone responsible for the outbreak.
Welsh leaders begin to call for a regional lifting of the export ban. HCC - Meat Promotion Wales says the country is losing £285,000 a day in revenue because of the ban and calls for it to be lifted from Wales as soon FMD is contained.
Gwyn Howells, HCC chief
executive, says: "We don't want to lose momentum - the longer the
ban remains in place, the more likely it is that the consumer confidence that now exists for our products in Europe will
It also appeals to supermarkets not to buy imports at the expense of Welsh lamb and beef. However, at the same time, Asda reveals it only has enough British lamb to last until the end of the week, and refuses to rule out importing to cover any shortfall. "We'll have to play it by ear," says a spokesman.
Smithfield wholesale market says prices, particularly for lamb, are fluctuating wildly, with little British product available.
The farmer at the centre of the second outbreak is named as 60-year-old John Gunner, who speaks of his anger at the outbreak.
Scottish abattoirs begin to open for business, with 13 reported to be operating by mid-morning. Meanwhile, the rest of the UK is also given some cheer when Debby Reynolds announces the movement of livestock to slaughter will be allowed to resume at midnight under general licence, with strict biosecurity measures.
A third herd of cattle, again within the protection zone, is also ordered to be destroyed "I cannot rule out that disease is developing on the premises," Reynolds says.
Hopes for a regional lifting of the export ban sooner rather than later are dashed with news from the EU that the ban will not be lifted any earlier than 25 August. Scotland and Wales had been hoping for an earlier resumption of trade.
Immediate supply problems begin to fade as the abattoir sector begins to get back on its feet in England and Wales, following the lifting of the ban on moving livestock, but farmers are urged to only transport animals under agreed contract with abattoirs.
The NFU announces it has retained law firm Thring Townsend to carry out some preliminary investigatory work on behalf of NFU members, who have
suffered losses as a result of the FMD outbreak.
A Defra report concludes that the Pirbright site is the most likely source of infection.
The initial findings of the
National Emergency Epidemiology Group which has been investigating the outbreak indicates that infection may be contained to the Surrey area.
It sets out the most likely scenario that while there is a risk of further cases in the same area, it is unlikely that infection from the original release of the
virus will occur. However, fur-ther cases could arise from a secondary spread.
Defra chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds says the decision is not to vaccinate at this stage, but that it will retain full readiness
to do so.
Tests show the farm outside the government surveillance zone is negative for FMD. The news is welcomed by the industry, which had feared FMD had spread outside the controlled zone in Surrey.
The 3km temporary protection zone which was set up around the suspected case, near Dorking in Surrey, is lifted.
The third farm within the surveillance zone is also cleared earlier from having the disease. But Defra's Debby Reynolds urges farmers to maintain "relentless vigilance" in looking for signs of the disease.
More news is expected into the source of the FMD outbreak, but the industry is unlikely to get an all-clear until the end of the week. Defra says it is expecting more news into the source of infection, but adds that microbiologists have warned the industry is not in
the clear until at least the end of the week.
Professor Hugh Pennington tells the BBC that if the disease has not spread to other animals by then, it is "highly unlikely" there will be any further outbreaks.
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