Foot and mouth: Pirbright lab blamed

Foot and mouth fears have eased with the news that vaccine production at the Pirbright Research facility is the most likely source of the Surrey outbreak.


Last night DEFRA confirmed that the strain of foot and mouth in cattle on the Wanborough farm where 64 beef animals were slaughtered yesterday was identical to one used by US vaccine maker Merial at the research facilities it shares with the Institute for Animal Health three miles away at Pirbright.


“The present indications are that this strain is a 01 BFS67-like virus, isolated in the 1967 foot and mouth disease outbreak in Great Britain,” DEFRA commented last night.


This morning The Sunday Times newspaper revealed the identity of the affected farmer to be Derrick Pride, 78. Mr Pride runs a farm and shop in Elstead. The three cattle herds culled yesterday were all his.


Mr Pride’s identity was withheld by Farmers Weekly throughout Saturday. A local contractor, Ray Simmonds, told one FW journalist yesterday: “He’s one of the safest people about.”


Local beef producer Angus Stovold, who farms within the exclusion zone, assured the BBC: “The farmer is a really good farmer. All the animals I’ve seen from him have been really good.”


Although DEFRA has not yet said that Pirbright was the definite source it has extended its protection and surveillance zones in Surrey to reflect the new information. The strain was used to make a batch of foot and mouth vaccine at Merial’s Pirbright centre on July 16.


Farming breathed a huge sigh of relief on the news. The big question now is how long movement restrictions and a ban on overseas trade will remain in place.


Biosecurity measures are being urgently reassessed at the Pirbright institute and Merial has voluntarily halted vaccine manufacture as a precaution.


The news was welcomed by epidemic experts. “If we know exactly where the virus has come from, and particularly if it’s a vaccine type of virus, it’s less likely to be a nasty virus,” microbiology expert Hugh Pennington told the BBC.


“We know there isn’t uncertainty about the source, so that means there isn’t going to be virus in Cumbria or in Scotland, or in Wales from the same source as the virus that has caused this infection in Surrey; it’s a localised problem.”


DEFRA is urging farmers to remain vigilant and check animals for signs of foot and mouth. The UK-wide ban on livestock movement remains in place.


One other herd of cattle adjacent to the farm at Wanborough was culled yesterday as a precaution, but none of those animals have shown signs of the disease.


Commenting on biosecurity measures at Pirbright IAH a spokesman said: “We have no evidence that these have been breached at the IAH laboratory. IAH is Defra’s Reference Laboratory for the diagnosis of FMD in the UK and, based on our high-quality research, we provide scientific advice to Defra on emergency measures.”


Further coverage of the Pirbright foot and mouth outbreak

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