Defra denies failure to contain FMD

Second FMD outbreak same as first
Second FMD outbreak same as first

The government's claim to have swiftly contained the first outbreak of foot and mouth disease has been cast into doubt.

Scientists believe a second report of the virus a month after foot and mouth was first confirmed was part of the same outbreak, suggesting the government should not have claimed to have contained the virus in the intervening period.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had speculated the outbreaks in August and September were the result of separate leaks from the Pirbright laboratory site, which has been linked to the disease.

But an investigation from the Institute of Animal Health (IAH), which shares the Pirbright site with vaccine manufacturer Merial.


Foot and mouth was first detected on a farm near Normandy, Surrey on August 3rd, prompting a cull of hundreds of health animals and an export ban on British life stock.

Defra was on course to ease restrictions in preparation for obtaining disease free status on November 7th.

But on September 12th the disease was detected 11 miles away near Virginia Water, Surrey. At the time this was reported as a new wave of infections.

Genetic sequencing by IAH scientists has, however, confirmed the two outbreaks sprung from the same virus, suggesting the culls and biosecurity measures failed to contain foot and mouth.

The peer-reviewed report has been released today after media reports claimed the second outbreak was a separate incident, also blamed on a Pirbright leak.

"The FMD viruses found in the Virginia Water area were derived from the earlier infected premises in Normandy, Surrey and not from a reintroduction from the Pirbright site," the IAH said in a statement.

"IAH and its sponsoring body, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), strongly refute unsubstantiated and incorrect claims in the Times newspaper on December 13th that the second phase of infection in the Virginia Water area was caused by infected soil removed from Pirbright."

The scientists claim they were "frustrated" into releasing the report, which was completed on October 5th, themselves after Defra suppressed it - a claim denied by the department.

Defra has defended its response to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, which at the time won Gordon Brown praise for his handling of emergencies.

A department spokesperson insisted the second outbreak was not the result of Defra failings.

They said: "This infected premises was located outside of the original ten km surveillance zone and therefore could not have been picked up by the extensive surveillance and sampling we carried out according to internationally recognised standards."

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