Shocked farmers vent anger at disease labs

GUILDFORD (Reuters) - Farmers voiced horror on Tuesday at the return of foot and mouth disease and turned their anger on animal research laboratories which are suspected as the source of the outbreak.

Dead cows are carried on a tractor on a farm in Normandy, near Guildford, southern England August 7, 2007. A second herd of cattle in southern Britain has contracted foot and mouth disease, the government said on Tuesday, raising fears that the highly damaging animal virus is spreading. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Investigators are focusing on two labs researching foot and mouth vaccines -- one run by the government, the other private -- near farms where the disease broke out, and also on fields flooded with sewage by heavy rain as possible causes.

“The government are very good at laying down health and safety standards on those of us who run a business. When you look at what they do themselves it is very lacking,” said Christine Shubrook, whose Thundry Farm in Surrey is near where foot and mouth was found last week.

Both the government and private labs, which have virus samples of the uncommon strain of the disease found to have infected the cattle, say investigations have revealed no breaches in their security measures.

National Farming Union spokesman Anthony Gibson said farmers “expect the very highest possible standards of biosecurity” from the labs.

“There is shock in the farming community at the moment that could very easily turn to anger,” he told reporters.”

Trevor Telling, who looks after two farms with 300 cattle and 1,500 sheep in Surrey, commended the government on responding quickly to the outbreak and being forthright in pointing to its lab as a possible culprit.

“I am slightly shocked that a facility of that calibre is to blame. If they are to blame, I am staggered,” he said.

The labs are the government Institute for Animal Health and a facility run by Merial Animal Health Ltd, jointly owned by U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co. and France’s Sanofi-Aventis.


Roger Pride, whose family’s farm was the first to report an outbreak, described how quickly events have travelled since last Thursday when his father noticed something amiss in their cows.

“They were drooling, saliva, lots of saliva coming out of both sides of their mouths,” he said.

He notified a veterinarian on Thursday, the dreaded news came on Friday, and 64 of the cattle at his family farm in Surrey were slaughtered on Saturday.

He said he was “shocked and devastated” when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs phoned to report his cattle had tested positive for foot and mouth disease. “It felt as if our whole world had been turned upside down,” he said.

Pride said he thought flooding that swamped his field might offer the best explanation for the outbreak.

“Twenty-five percent of the field was flooded and there was a smell of sewage because ... sewage could have come up through the manhole covers,” he told reporters.

“It runs towards the Pirbright (research labs), and it’s just a way it could have quite easily come into the field.”

Government investigators have inspected both laboratories but have yet to issue a report on their findings.