Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown has reassured farmers that foot and mouth disease is restricted to a limited area. He spoke amid news that over 360 animals culled as a precaution were not infected. While two farms in Surrey in southern England have tested positive, tests at a third nearby have proven negative. “We also want to make sure that the rural economy can move, not only back to normal but prosper,” said Brown. “And that is why compensation will be paid quickly to farmers in infected ares and we have gone beyond the statutory requirements to include clean-up costs.“That is why also we are determined that we get to the roots of the cause, which is the bio-security issues and other issues as quickly as possible with the reports coming very soon”. Enquiries into the source of the outbreak have focussed on the nearby Pirbright research centre which houses two laboratories – one state-run and the other, Merial, owned by US firm Merck and French company Sanofi-Aventis SA. Both deny any breach in bio-security. “All the measures we take on our site, all the bio-security measures of the highest international standard similar to those taken in human medicine when working, for example, on extremely pathogenic bacteria, are there to show that you can have this type of activity whatever the environment, because we are in control of bio-security”, said Dr Pierre-Jean Consalvi, General Manager of Merial SAS.
However an interim report has found it is very likely the source of the infection was the Pirbright site. For research and vaccine purposes, both laboratories there had been using a strain of the virus involved in the outbreak. “There are three scenarios which have been put forward,” said Consalvi. “The virus could be spread by air, water or human beings. From this preliminary report made public on Tuesday evening, it has emerged that the airborne possibility cannot be considered. So there remains the possibilities of transmission by water and humans and these are still being investigated”. With measures taken so far, the British authoriites hope to avoid a repeat of the devastating crisis in 2001. Between six and ten million animals were culled. So vigilance is essential. The foot and mouth virus is highly contagious for animals.“It is easy for this virus to spread among animals, that is clear. But it is important to note that it is a disease which is not at all pathogenic for humans. That has to be recognized”, said Consalvi.