Export hopes setback as more suspect farms are uncovered

Two more farms were suspected of foot and mouth disease (FMD) as MTJ went to press, potentially dashing hopes that the infection has been contained and, with it, the prospect of a speedy resumption of exports. Defra would not reveal where one of the

farms was in Kent but has set up a new control zone around it, according to chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds. Meanwhile, later reports revealed that tests were also being carried out at another sheep holding in Chessington, Surrey, although the exact location was also not confirmed.

Fears that the tests could be positive were being played down however, as Dr Reynolds suggested the Kent case was similar to the one on a farm in Dorking, Surrey, last week, where a suspected outbreak turned out to be a false alarm. At the Kent farm, it is believed the calves have blisters on their tongues. But although blisters are a key symptom of FMD, the farm owner believes that the action taken will prove to have been purely precautionary once the test results are completed.

Hopes that the UK will be able to start exporting to EU members states fairly quickly could suffer a setback if these cases are confirmed to have FMD. Peter Hardwick, MLC's international manager, told MTJ. "The export ban could be partially lifted within 30 days of the date of the last outbreak on a regionalised basis."

Defra is expected to issue a roadmap once it believes FMD has been contained, with a timetable and decisions on how GB will be zoned, with opportunities for lifting restrictions on a regionalised basis. However, it revealed that it will be giving no timelines until the independent report on biosecurity is completed by Dr Brian Spratt of Imperial College, expected today (17 August). The Health & Safety Executive is also conducting a separate investigation into the cause of the outbreak.

Following the publication of the Spratt report and Dr Reynolds' recommendations, it is believed that Defra will press the EU and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to recover the UK's FMD-free status. This call was expected to be undertaken at the EU's Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health on 23 August.

Exports to third countries - those outside the EU - will take longer to be reinstated.

For more news and analysis on the FMD crisis, see our special reports starting on page 11.