» Monday, August 6, 2007

Foot and Mouth Disease

The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Prime Minister had held a meeting this morning with the President and Director General of the National Farmers Union (NFU) to discuss the current outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease and the issues that would arise as we went forward. The Prime Minister thanked the NFU for their close co-operation on this matter, and both parties expressed the desire for that co-operation to continue, both on this outbreak and on other rural issues in the future.

The PMS said that during the Prime Minister’s visit to Reigate, which was at the headquarters of the regional disease control centre, he met the regional operational director, as well as participating in their update meeting. The people involved were local authorities, animal health authorities, representatives from the NFU, Trading Standards representatives, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Health Protection Agency (HPA), RSPCA, the police and other people from DEFRA. The Prime Minister spent around 20 minutes with them, and following that, at the same place, he had a 40 minute discussion with local farmers and representatives from the south east NFU. Included in that were farmers whose farms were within the protection zone. The Prime Minister again thanked them for their co-operation, patience and understanding, and listened carefully to their concerns. It was a constructive meeting.

Asked when the results of the independent HSE report would be released, as Hilary Benn had said that it would be within 48 hours, the PMS said that her understanding was that we were expecting the HSE report sometime tomorrow. The PMS explained that there were two investigations: one was the HSE investigation which had begun on Sunday, and the other was a separate report called the Spratt Review which would look into arrangements for biosecurity around facilities handling the Foot and Mouth virus in the UK.

Asked when Professor Spratt’s review would be released, the PMS said that it would come out in August.

Asked when the Spratt was commissioned, the PMS said that her understanding was that it had been commissioned very recently.

Asked if the HSE report’s findings tomorrow would be interim or in depth, the PMS said that people would have to wait and see where people had got to with the investigation.
Asked if the HSE report would be made public, the PMS said that people should check with the HSE.

Asked why did Ministers believe that if the virus had come from the Pirbright site, it was likely to be from the commercial side, rather than the institute, the PMS replied that in advance of the HSE report, we were looking into all options and all possibilities of where the source of the outbreak had come from. As the Prime Minister had said today, the focus was on containing and controlling the disease, but at the same time, the HSE report was ongoing to look at the source of the outbreak.

Asked why the UK had banned exports from the whole country and not just from the infected areas, the PMS replied that all of this was guided by the contingency plans that were drawn up post-2001. These measures were clearly drawn up as measures that needed to be taken in the event of an outbreak.

Asked if restrictions could be lifted in certain parts of the UK, the PMS said that all such decisions had to be guided by the science, contingency plans and investigations that were ongoing. At the moment, the focus had to be on controlling and containing the infection.

Put that the Prime Minister had made a great play about vaccine production on 16th July from the Meril site, and was that still the focus of the HSE report, and if not, why did he feel the need to identify that date, the PMS replied that the HSE report was always going to look into all the options. There had been facts that had come to light regarding production that had been made public, and the Prime Minister was answering questions regarding these facts. but she repeated that all options were being looked at by the HSE.

Asked if the Prime Minister’s meeting with the NFU today was his first meeting with them, the PMS replied that she understood that it was.

Put that several reports had highlighted concerns about funding for Pirbright, and their facilities had been described as "shabby", and was the Prime Minister confident that Pirbright had received enough funding and the facilities were as good as they could have been, the PMS pointed out that with regards to the report, another part of the report had said that biosecurity of the site was taken extremely seriously. The PMS said that people should not get ahead of themselves in advance of the HSE report, as all options were being looked into. With regards to funding, Hilary Benn said this morning that the report had said that the site needed to be upgraded and "that was exactly what we were doing. We were in the process of investing with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department for Innovation, University and Skills and DEFRA were investing £121 million in new building facilities on that site".

Put that flooding had been suggested as a possible reason for the outbreak, and that the virus could have been waterborne from the flooded areas, the PMS replied that they were looking at all options.

Asked if there would be further COBR meetings, the PMS said that there would be others, but we would brief at the appropriate times.

Briefing took place at 16:45 | Search for related news

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