Farmers were warned yesterday they will have to wait until the end of the week before the all clear can be sounded on the foot and mouth outbreak.
The leading microbiologist, Prof Hugh Pennington, said the meat and livestock industry could only be considered free from the risk of further disease once the incubation period - up to 14 days - is over. His comments came the day after the Government confirmed that foot and mouth tests on cattle from Surrey had come back negative, raising hopes that the disease may have been restricted to animals from two farmers. Asked if the outbreak was now over, Prof Pennington said: "I wouldn't want to do that until, certainly, the end of this possible incubation period. I think by the end of next week if we've seen no more cases, I think we can say it's highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely that there will be any more cases - not before then." The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said no further suspected cases of the disease had been reported today but also urged caution. "Science and previous experience tell us that we have a considerable way to go before we know we're out of the woods and there's a need for relentless vigilance," said a spokesman. "This is still day nine of the current outbreak and the effort to eradicate the disease remains our priority." The first outbreak was confirmed on cattle belonging to Roger Pride in fields in Normandy near Guildford, Surrey, on August 3, prompting Defra to impose a 3km "protection zone" and a 10km "surveillance zone". A nationwide ban on the movements of all sheep, cattle and pigs was put in place and the affected animals were culled the following day. The second outbreak was confirmed on August 6 in cattle owned by John Gunner within the exclusion zone in the village of Normandy. On August 8, Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said the movement of animals directly between farms and slaughterhouses would be permitted under licence, but the ban on all other movements of susceptible animals remained in force. Livestock culled on a third farm - John Emerson's at Hunts Hill in Normandy - within the protection area were found not to have foot and mouth disease. Dr Reynolds earlier told BBC News 24: "We have had to cull just over 500 animals on two infected premises and three other premises. "It's early days, but so far, our evaluation is that the risk of spread outside the zone in Surrey is low." An interim epidemiology report into the outbreak has concluded that it was very likely that the source of infection was the Pirbright research complex, which is shared by the Government-funded Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and pharmaceutical company Merial Animal Health. The Health and Safety Executive is expected to publish a further report this week. Defra has said that farmers who lost cattle to foot and mouth will be compensated at the market rate and will also have the clean-up costs refunded. The National Farmers' Union has appointed a law firm to help its members pursue legal actions. The local MP, Humfrey Malins, said yesterday that he would help farmers whose livelihoods were under threat. "They have gone through hell and back in the last ten days. Whoever their claim is against, be it the Government or other organisation, they will have my total support," he said. Mr Malins said the farming community was daring to hope the worst may now be over. "The mood in Normandy and Pirbright is one of cautious optimism. There is still grave concern but every day that goes by without further outbreak is a good day." One contractor who worked at the Institute of Animal Health at the Pirbright complex, Percy Ravate, contracted Legionnaires disease. He claimed he may have picked up the complaint while working there and said doors were left open for him to come and go while replacing pipework. However, initial findings by the Health Protection Agency indicate that the disease was not present in high enough levels to affect humans. A spokesman for the Institute said he was "swipecarded" into a part of the building that had been cleaned of viruses. Meanwhile, scientists have warned that Britain is under threat from a new farmyard disease, known as bluetongue. The virus is mainly a southern African disease and has never been found here but increasingly warm weather has led to its spread across Europe. The virus does not affect humans but can prove fatal to sheep and cattle. It emerged in northern Europe for the first time last year and has since been found in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France. It has spread to more than 2,000 herds. Experts believe it is only a matter of time before infected midges of the Culicoides species are blown across the Channel to Britain and farmers have been placed on alert by Defra. (Telegraph)