Leading article: Bio-insecurity

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The Independent Online

It is good that the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Surrey last month was so quickly contained and eradicated. At least one lesson was learnt from the catastrophic spread of the disease in 2001. Almost all the rest of the story, as we now know it, is appalling.

Two investigations have failed to establish for certain where the contamination originated. They posit a combination of circumstances, part natural (tree roots and heavy rain), part man-made (poor maintenance), and part routine (the movement of workers and vehicles).

Defective maintenance, though, appears the key: if the pipe in question had been properly insulated, none of the other factors would have been lethal. But this raises as many questions as answers: did the maintenance problem reflect poor inspection, lack of funds, or perhaps confused responsibilities between the Government (Defra) and subordinate agencies?

What is clear is that the standard of biosecurity was disgracefully lax. The prominence given to the adjacent commercial laboratory, Merial, in early official statements also suggests a scandalous attempt to spin culpability away from Defra. If, as is likely, the farmers sue, their case for damages seems unimpeachable.

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