The nightmare returns: new foot-and-mouth outbreak confirmed

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The threat of foot-and-mouth disease returned today with one confirmed outbreak and one suspected outbreak at farms over a hundred miles apart.

Foot-and-mouth disease has been found in cattle in Egham in Surrey, the Government said today, and scientists are investigating a further suspected outbreak at a farm in Norfolk.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said initial tests from a farm in Egham showed the virus was present.

A spokesman said: "As a result, Chief vet Debby Reynolds has confirmed that there is a case."

The cattle involved are being culled and a 10km protection zone was set up around the farmland.

A meeting of the Government's emergency Cobra committee was called for 3pm to discuss the latest outbreak. Prime Minister Gordon Brown will chair the talks.

A nationwide ban on movements of cattle, sheep, pigs and other susceptible animals has been imposed in the wake of the test results.

A single protection zone has been set up, extending 3km from each of a series of pieces of land which make up the affected farm, along with a 10 km surveillance zone.

Defra said the farm had been under restrictions since last night, and the decision to cull the cattle was taken this morning on the basis of clinical signs of the disease in the animals.

Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said the strain of the virus and its origin had not yet been identified.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: "This is news that no one wanted to hear, least of all the farming industry.

"The immediate establishment of both a Protection Zone, with footpaths closed within it, and a national animal movement ban shows our determination to contain and eradicate this latest outbreak.

"Having spoken this morning to farming industry representatives, I know they share this view and the utmost vigilance is now needed from everyone."

Peter Kendall, president of the NFU, said: "The preliminary tests have shown positive results, but we are not expecting the final details until later this afternoon.

"This is enough to leave the industry devastated, with two incidences back to back just five or six weeks apart."

Mr Kendall said the chances that the latest outbreak was from a different source, or a different strain to the previous one were "incredibly small."

"It is likely it all goes back in some way to the original outbreak near Pirbright," he said.

Mr Kendall said he had not spoken to the farmer involved, adding: "I think his animals are being slaughtered as we speak. This is a very difficult time."

He said the latest case would have "enormous" ramifications for the whole of the farming community.

"At the weekend the whole industry breathed a collective sigh of relief that we had moved on. This has set us right back.

"There is a real sense of deja vu that it is happening again, and how long will it go on for?

"August is a very big month for livestock sales. That has all had to be condensed into September, and now we have been shut down again.

"It has enormous ramifications for the whole production systems."

Liberal Democrat Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "This is a deeply alarming development. It hits British livestock farmers at an even worse moment than before.

"September is critical as lambs are going to slaughter for home and export markets.

"It is crucial to quickly identify whether this strain of the virus was being worked on at Pirbright or matches the previous outbreak, and whether biosecurity at the labs has failed again.

"If so, work should stop until there are fundamental improvements at the site.

"A nationwide ban on livestock movement is essential until we have the measure of the problem, but if Pirbright is the source of the new outbreak then Defra should look at early relaxation of the movement ban outside the areas at risk.

"Defra should also ensure this time that footpaths near the outbreak are closed immediately."

The affected area is about 10 miles from the previous outbreak near Pirbright, which was caused by a leak from a laboratory site nearby.

It comes just days after the UK was officially declared free of the disease and the last set of controls was lifted.

In addition to the new movement ban, there are now restrictions on livestock markets and shows, the movement of animal carcasses, shearing and dipping, as well as requirements for increased levels of biosecurity on farms.

Inside the protection and surveillance zones, there are also controls on movement of dung and manure as well as treatment of animal products to ensure the FMD virus is destroyed.

Tory MP Philip Hammond, who represents the Runnymede and Weybridge constituency, which includes Egham, said the latest case raised fears over whether the disease may be able to lie dormant for longer periods than previously thought.

He said if the latest case was linked to the previous outbreak, the first question to ask was why the restrictions on moving livestock were lifted.

"Presumably it was on the basis of a scientific assessment that the incubation period was only a couple of weeks.

"Either the decision to allow movement or the information they have is wrong. Are we looking at something completely new in terms of how the virus behaves?"

He added: "We may need to change the way we approach this problem."

Conservative chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee Neil Parish described the news of the latest outbreak as a "massive body blow for the countryside".

He said: "Defra's immediate task will be to stop the disease spreading yet further, but farmers will rightly be asking how on earth this has been allowed to happen again.

"The countryside has a number of questions about the biosecurity lapses at Pirbright that this Government seems unwilling to answer.

"Farming and its associated industries deserve proper compensation for the failings that resulted in the original outbreak.

"If Pirbright is found to be responsible again, the case for compensation will grow."

The area at the centre of the outbreak is grazing land attached to Milton Park farm, Surrey County Council confirmed.

The animals on the land were owned by another farm, Hardwick Park farm, head of Trading Standards Peter Denard said.

He said footpaths in the area were being closed after Defra approved a council request that they be shut.

Council enforcers would be putting up signs noting the closures from today. Mr Denard said he believed there was a link to the August outbreak.

"I don't believe in coincidences, and I'm sure we will find there is some connection with Pirbright," he said.

"The hibernation period has passed so this should not have happened, but it has so clearly something else has gone wrong."

He learned of the outbreak in a phone call from Defra at 9am today.

A helpline for local farmers and livestock keepers has been set up. Anyone with queries should call 01372 371 692.

As the second outbreak was confirmed, charity Compassion in World Farming urged the Government to implement an emergency vaccination programme to prevent a major disaster for the farming community and animal welfare.

CIWF chief executive Philip Lymbery also called for the EU to reconsider its policy which forbids routine vaccination for foot and mouth.

And he urged the Government to ensure the slaughter of infected cattle was done humanely.

Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said: "Confirmation of a new outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Surrey is both depressing and alarming.

"It is inexcusable that the Government delayed implementing a national ban on livestock movements for several hours. A ban should have been introduced on a precautionary basis anyway. It is essential that no risks are taken when it comes to dealing with this disease."

Mr Ainsworth, whose East Surrey constituency is close to the new outbreak site, added: "Today's news also begs the question of why the Government's Chief Vet felt able to say a few days ago that she was 'satisfied that foot and mouth disease has been eradicated from Surrey'.

"It would be extraordinary if the present problem was not related to the outbreak at Pirbright which, we now know, was almost certainly caused by negligent maintenance at a laboratory site licensed and regulated by the Government.

"The Government's shameful role in the causes of the original outbreak was bad enough. Now it seems possible that, in their eagerness to put the issue behind them, they relaxed security measures too early. I fear that farmers may pay a heavy price for the Government's complacency."

The Crown Estate said the majority of Windsor Great Park, which falls inside the 10km surveillance zone, would be closed to the public.

The parts of the park closed to visitors include the Savill Building Visitor Centre and are likely to remain closed until Defra advises the Crown Estate they can be reopened.

The closure is in addition to a number of other measures for the park, including the cancellation of the national carriage driving event this weekend, the suspension of all horse riding permits, and the ceasing of operations at the Guards Polo Club.

The two tenant farms within the 10km surveillance zone in the park are being kept informed of the measures, a statement from the Crown Estate said.