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More Cattle Culling Ordered Over Disease

Sky News | August 8, 2007

RELATED: Investigators Probe Whether Government Lab Deliberately Released Virus

Cattle are to be culled on a third Surrey farm over fears of a fresh outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

It comes as some restrictions were eased on the movement of animals imposed in the wake of the scare.

Transporting live animals to slaughterhouses and collecting dead animals from farms will both be allowed from midnight.

But officials stress these will only be permitted outside the protection zone in Surrey.

The Welsh and Scottish governments have also announced similar moves.

The latest farm to come under the spotlight is adjacent to the second farm where the disease was discovered.

Meanwhile, experts are checking whether the foot and mouth outbreak was caused by sabotage linked to a nearby laboratory site.

A Health and Safety Executive preliminary report said there were various potential routes for "accidental or deliberate transfer of material from the site".

It said: "Release by human movement must also be considered a real possibility. Further investigation of the above issues is required and is being urgently pursued."

Merial Animal Health, which is based at the lab, said it does not believe the disease was spread by people from its centre.

It said: "To date, we have not been able to establish any evidence that the virus may have been transported out of our centre by humans."

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn admitted the Government has to look at the possibility the outbreak in Surrey was the result of deliberate human contamination.

Speaking after the publication of the report, he said: "The truth is, we don't know. We're all very, very anxious."

Mr Benn has agreed to a recommendation by the Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds that footpaths in a protection zone, which covers the two infected farms, be closed with immediate effect.

Defra has confirmed that an allotment, which is understood to be near the first site of the outbreak, is being looked at as part of the ongoing "epidemiology investigation".

Culling at the two farms which had outbreaks of foot and mouth is complete, it said.

A spokesman for Defra said: "A total of 214 animals have been culled with none awaiting culling.

"All the culling took place inside the protection zone."

The safety executive's preliminary findings said there was a "strong possibility" that the Pirbright laboratory facility was the source of the foot and mouth outbreak.

It did not specify whether Merial Animal Health or the Institute of Animal Health (IAH), both on the site, was responsible.

Chances that the infections had been caused by flooding or aerial transmission were "negligible", it added.

The report confirmed the strain found at the first farm was being worked on at both IAH and Merial between July 14 and 25.

There was large scale production at the Merial site (10,000 litres) and a series of small scale experiments (fewer than 10 millilitres in each case) at the IAH site.

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