Essex fears over foot and mouth outbreak

LEADERS of the farming community and tourism bosses in Essex last night warned of a “potential disaster” for the region in the wake of the Foot and Mouth outbreak - and urged farmers to remain vigilant.

By Roddy Ashworth

LEADERS of the farming community and tourism bosses in Essex last night warned of a “potential disaster” for the region in the wake of the Foot and Mouth outbreak - and urged farmers to remain vigilant.

But it was stressed that the county is open for business as the search for the source of the infection, confirmed at a farm near Guildford in Surrey, continues.

Last night an animal health laboratory near the stricken farm in Pirbright was being investigated as the possible source of the devastating disease, which has seen affected livestock slaughtered.

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Simon Brice, chairman of Essex NFU, said: “We are obviously disappointed at this news, to put it mildly.

“It couldn't have come at a worse time for livestock farmers in the county, who are already having a bad time at the moment with the price they are getting and the price of animal feed.

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“However, I believe the Government has done the right thing and the first priority has to be to get the current outbreak under control.

“Farmers were just getting back into the market after the 2001 epidemic and what we are all hoping for is that it can be contained where it is.

“We are asking farmers to be vigilant and continue with the bio-security they are already carrying out.

“We hope Defra have managed to contain it - we don't want it spreading across the country like it did in 2001.

“This is not only potentially a disaster for the farming industry but also for tourism.”

Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council and a former member of the NFU's national executive, sought to reassure residents and visitors that no major changes had been necessary in the county's rural areas as a result of the Surrey outbreak.

But he asked people to respect any hygiene arrangements put in place by farmers.

The former livestock farmer said: “Mercifully, at the moment this remains an isolated case, and we hope it stays that way.

“However, I want to stress that there is no risk to the public in Essex and that the Essex countryside is open as usual and that no footpaths have been closed.

“The situation is being kept under constant review and I can confirm that officials from Essex County Council have been working with their colleagues in Defra throughout the weekend to provide the very latest information to farmers throughout Essex.

“If you are going into the countryside, please ensure you follow good hygiene practices and respect the arrangements put in place at farms - such as footbaths and vehicle tyre washes.

“However let me emphasise - Essex and our beautiful countryside remains open for business.”

Dominique Tropeano, managing director of Colchester Zoo, said the tourist attraction was opening as usual.

During the last disease outbreak in 2001 it had to close for around six weeks due to nearby cases of foot and mouth.

“At the moment we are going about our business as we normally do.

“Having said that, we are keeping a close eye on the situation through the media and Defra. It is extremely worrying.

“It doesn't seem to have come our way, but we all remember what happened in 2001 when we had two infections within a mile of the zoo, and the situation was quite dangerous.

“If it did get worse and came our way we would have to close. But we are right in the middle of the season and I have to say from a financial point of view that would have a big impact.

“It certainly had an effect last time, because your running expenses remain the same - your staff are still employed and you have to keep going, but you have no money coming in.”

Nicola Currie, eastern regional director of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), added: “The CLA urge against jumping to conclusions but if the outbreak is linked to the laboratory at Pirbright it would be a serious lapse of biosecurity which is likely to have major consequences for farmers and the rural economy.

“The CLA are working closely with Defra to prevent a repeat of the 2001 epidemic.”

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