Fears of deliberate spread of foot and mouth disease

2019-03-06 06:02:07

By Emma Young Fresh suggestions that some UK farmers may have deliberately infected livestock with foot and mouth disease to benefit from substantial government compensation packages will be investigated thoroughly, says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Nuala Preston, a farmer in Newport, Pembrokeshire, revealed on 29 July that a man had telephoned to offer her an infected sheep for £2000. “I was so horrified I slammed the phone down,” she said. “I was absolutely appalled that anyone should dream of doing that. “But I think some farmers on the brink of desperation and bankruptcy might be tempted to go for it because at least they would get compensation for their animals.” Farmers can receive £90 compensation for a sheep slaughtered from an infected herd – at least double the market value. Sam Harrison, a spokesman for DEFRA, says the department has been in contact with Preston to investigate her claims. He said they are also investigating “an individual suspected of spreading foot and mouth by deliberate infection”. One infected animal can quickly spread the disease throughout a flock or herd. But DEFRA insists that deliberate infection could not account for the vast majority of foot and mouth cases in the UK. “Almost every case that seemed inexplicable has been explained by human contact, movement of farm machinery, or being close to an infected herd,” Harrison says. “So far there is no evidence of suspicious transmission apart from in these two cases.” However, farmers have been criticised for lax ‘biosecurity’. DEFRA recently filmed a video emphasising the need for careful precautions in moving machinery and people between farms for distribution to farmers around the country. “I cannot stress highly enough the importance of remaining vigilant in following advice on how to help prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease,” said chief vet Jim Scudamore. “We recognise the efforts that farmers have already taken but more needs to be done.” The UK foot and mouth outbreak, which began in February, still shows no signs of being over. Though far fewer cases are being diagnosed than at the peak of the crisis, an average of four new cases per day are still being reported. More than 3.5 million animals have been condemned since the outbreak began. The virus replicates much more rapidly in cooler temperatures and experts fear that if the disease persists until autumn,