Leading article: The herd mentality


The new outbreak of foot-and-mouth at a farm in Surrey should be a warning against the dangers of official and political complacency. The indications are that the virus is the same strain that infected herds in the county last month. A new movement ban is in place around the farm in Egham. And the European Union has again imposed a ban on UK meat and livestock exports.

The outbreak is rather puzzling because it is more than 30 days since the last confirmed outbreak, and the incubation period for the disease is two to 14 days. Yet the virus can survive in water for up to 50 days and in hay and straw for up to 20 weeks. So it is possible that the virus survived the initial quarantine. Another possibility is that biosecurity at the Institute for Animal Health in Pirbright has once again been breached. But whatever the explanation, it means more pain for farmers. This is a time of year when livestock farmers would be moving their animals to market. Now that is on hold as the Government's vets attempt to isolate the outbreak.

The reappearance of the disease raises some uncomfortable political questions. Was the Government too hasty in declaring the all-clear last month? It certainly seems so. And the issue of biosecurity is again pertinent. The Government escaped censure when security failings at Pirbright were revealed last week. It is only right that biosecurity levels at the facility should now receive proper public scrutiny.

The new outbreak raises a broader question of policy too. A government-commissioned report by the Royal Society on the disastrous 2001 outbreak recommended that in future healthy livestock on neighbouring premises should be vaccinated as "a major tool of first resort" to prevent the disease spreading further. And the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, said yesterday that immunisation is now being considered. But why was vaccination not used, as the Royal Society recommended, when the outbreak occurred in August? Much was made of the Government successfully "learning the lessons" of 2001. But as with the calling of the all-clear last month, that verdict seems to have been premature.

There is a strong counter argument to vaccination of course. If used routinely, it could result in the disease becoming endemic, which would rob British agriculture of its status as "free of foot-and-mouth". This would prevent British farmers exporting to important markets abroad. But is the present situation – recurrent threats to the livelihoods of farmers, culled herds and impeded access to the countryside – really more attractive? It will not take too many more outbreaks to make vaccination look like the only responsible emergency response to foot-and-mouth.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station  

General Election 2015: Despite all the seeming cynicism, our political system works

Ian Birrell
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living