28 June 2002

Porton Down No

THE government has rejected claims that the foot-and-mouth epidemic was started by virus stolen from its Porton Down laboratory in Wiltshire and insisted that the most likely source of the virus was imported infected meat.

The 2001 outbreak probably started as a result of pigs being fed contaminated meat or meat products at Burnside Farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, according to DEFRAs own official inquiry into the origin of the epidemic.

Theories rejected

The report, written by chief vet Jim Scudamore and published on Thur, Jun 20, rejected some of the alternative theories put forward for the outbreak.

These include suggestions that the virus was either stolen or deliberately released from either the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research or the Chemical and Biological Defence Centre at Porton Down.

"In fact, no samples of F&M virus have been held at CAMR or CBD Porton Down," said the report.

The suggestion that the disease was in the country before February 2001 was also rejected.

"After detailed investigations into the allegations no evidence has been found to indicate that F&M was present in this country before the index case at Burnside Farm," said the report.

But while fairly confident on the fact the epidemic started at Burnside Farm with infected meat, the report said it was unlikely the origin of this material would ever be identified.

Legal imports of meat were a theoretical possibility as an origin of disease but the practical reality of this happening extremely unlikely, it said.

Personal imports of infected meat were another possibility but it was likely they would be consumed or discarded as domestic waste and therefore not find their way into animals.

The other option was illegal shipments on a commercial scale which were more likely to be intended for wholesale outlets or sale to restaurants and canteens, said the report. &#42