New foot and mouth outbreak hits farm industry

THE British farming industry was dealt a devastating blow yesterday as another case of foot and mouth disease was confirmed on a Surrey farm, just days after the country had been given the all-clear from the previous outbreak.

Around 300 cattle were culled on the farm in Egham which is just 10 miles from the Pirbright laboratory site at the centre of controversy over the source of last month's outbreak.

A nationwide movement ban on cattle, sheep and pigs was immediately imposed and protection and surveillance zones set up around the Milton Park Farm in an attempt to contain the disease.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged that the Government would do "everything in our power" to eradicate the disease and track down the source of the latest outbreak.

But there was confusion in the area around the affected farm with local farmers angry they had not been told by the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) about the outbreak.

And fears were growing last night of another outbreak in Norfolk as vets tested animals which had become ill on a farm at Hindolveston.

Movement restrictions were also placed on livestock markets and agricultural shows which comes as a body blow to organisers of the Nidderdale event at Pateley Bridge on September 24, the last show of the season.

Earlier this week they were rejoicing having escaped the previous movement ban but it will now be forced to go ahead without cattle, sheep and goats.

Skipton Auction Mart which only began normal movements at the beginning of the week, has also been forced to cancel all livestock shows and sales until further notice.

William Lambert, whose farm in Hawes in Wensleydale, was the first in Yorkshire to be confirmed with foot and mouth disease in 2001, said: "This is an absolute tragedy. We have had just two full days of auction marts since they were able to start up again and this could not have come at a worse time as we are now entering the main sales period for breeding cattle and sheep.

"There are going to be some very depressed people around as this is the time of year when they make most of their income. It could be the final straw for some as to whether they remain in farming.

"We must all pray that the disease doesn't spread further and that the Government can get it under control but the question is do we have any faith in them any longer."

The area at the centre of the outbreak is grazing land attached to Milton Park Farm but the animals belong to Hardwick Park Farm according to Trading Standards

The Government's chief vet Debby Reynolds said last night the strain of the virus and its origin had not yet been identified.

But National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said the chances of it being from a different source to the previous outbreak were "incredibly small".

He said: "It is likely it all goes back in some way to the original outbreak near Pirbright.

"At the weekend the whole industry breathed a collective sigh of relief that we had moved on. This has set us right back."

The NFU said farmers would lose 1.8m a day in lost meat and diary exports as a result of the latest outbreak while last month's cases of foot and mouth disease cost the industry between 50m and 80m.

Andrew Parsons, of Smallwood Farm in nearby Chertsey, said: "I think it's disgusting we haven't heard anything from Defra.

"We don't know if we can move our livestock or not. The restrictions were lifted two days ago and nobody's told us otherwise. But we wouldn't want to put anyone at risk so we're just going to keep them where they are."

Defra said it had put out media notices, information on its website, text alerts to people in the controlled zones and organised briefings for the NFU and animal health officials.