National Beef Association
For everyone with an interest in the British beef industry

Farmers have done their bit in minimising FMD damage - now it is Government’s turn

22nd August 2007

Region: National

Farmers have done their part in keeping the FMD spread limited to the area immediately around the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright in Surrey – and now government must make sure there are no more expensive virus leaks from the establishment.

This is the view of the National Beef Association which is aware of previous virus escapes from the Pirbright centre and the collective decision of other EU governments to shut down virus manufacturing premises in their countries because the risk of security breakdowns, particularly in the case of FMD, is simply too great.

“The relief within government and industry that the internally generated FMD scare appears to have been contained must not be allowed to cloud the serious issues surrounding the very real danger of future virus escapes with even more damaging consequences,” explained NBA director, Kim Haywood.

“Even if the national movement restriction strait-jacket is removed by around September 10th, as is hoped, and both the auction system and inter-EU export markets are completely restored within the next three weeks, the measures taken to counter the avoidable leak at Pirbright have been an extremely expensive national exercise and the cost to livestock farmers, haulers, auction markets, meat processors and government has to be well over £100 million through additional direct expense and loss of income.”

“Circumstances, on this occasion, have favoured the relatively easy confinement of the outbreak but there is no guarantee this will happen again if there is yet another leak so government must not sit back and congratulate itself on avoiding a complete disaster and instead address the more difficult task of making sure similar escapes cannot happen again.”

According to the NBA this means a thorough examination of whether it is right to continue to manufacture FMD virus on the Pirbright site – and if it is whether it is possible to do so without any risk of disastrous spillage.

“Whatever the outcome of a review on developments at the Institute of Animal Health it is abundantly clear that government must either decide, as others in the EU already have done, that it can no longer risk FMD virus manufacture in a livestock producing country that is so dependent on export markets or throw a mountain of money at making sure the premises are escape proof,” said Ms Haywood.

“The former may prove the easiest course because government in general    appears to prefer minimalist, even threadbare, financial support for equally important issues like efficient flood defence and it is abundantly clear that if Pirbright really is to be made leak proof it will have to divert substantially more money into Defra, and its animal disease containment strategies, at a time when it clearly prefers to take the opposite tack and pursue consistent and regular financial cuts in Defra instead.”

For more information contact:

Kim Haywood, NBA Director.   Tel: 0131 336 1754