F&M: Smuggled meat blamed for epidemic

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Foot-and-mouth: Smuggled meat blamed for epidemic


SMUGGLED meat served in a Chinese restaurant is being investigated as the most likely source of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Infected meat, probably imported illegally from the Far East, went to the unnamed restaurant in the North East and the waste ended up in pigswill fed to pigs at Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland, Nick Brown will tell MPs today.

An official report on the source of the outbreak, to be published today, also finds that the spread of the disease was so marked because it lay undetected in sheep for two to three weeks before the first case was spotted when pigs from Ronnie Waugh’s farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall were taken to an Essex abattoir for slaughter.

The report was being highlighted by the Government yesterday as it struggled to show that it was gaining a grip on the epidemic. The mass burial of animals began, with about 7,500 sheep tipped into a giant trench dug by the Army in Cumbria. And Mr Brown made a worldwide appeal to vets to come to Britain to help. There were 25 new cases yesterday, taking the total to 634 and renewed fears that the epidemic could rip through the Lake District.

Mr Brown, the Agriculture Minister, will tell MPs that the epidemic would not have started had pigswill been heated to 100C, which would have killed the virus. Fewer than 100 farmers are now licensed to use pigswill; it is fed to only about 80,000 pigs — 1.5 per cent of the industry — and a ban on it will be heralded in a separate official report today.

A senior government source said: “There is no place for it in modern farming.” The report on the spread of the disease also finds that the fact that it was carried by sheep was the crucial difference with the 1967 outbreak, so that the disease turned up in several areas. A government aide said: “A sheep can easily cover 1,000 miles a week as it passes from trader to trader.”

But Mr Brown will today say that in future farmers must keep stock for 21 days for disease control purposes before moving them on — a ruling that already applies to pigs.

The Times has been told that officials in the North East were alerted to possible illegal activity after a container of illegal meat, clearly labelled for a Chinese restaurant, was found concealed inside a load of household goods after confirmation of the first cases of foot-and-mouth. Officials are convinced that they are on the trail of a meat smuggling operation that could have been going on for months and are urgently verifying how waste food from Chinese restaurants was used as pigswill.

The link with the Far East fits in with strain of the virus identified in the infected livestock. Professor Alex Donaldson, of the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright, Surrey, said on Friday that the strain was common in China, Cambodia, Vietnam and South-East Asia and had probably come from the Middle or Far East. Meat from any region with foot-and-mouth disease is banned from being imported into Britain.

Northumberland County Council officials are meanwhile checking links between Mr Waugh and a father and son, Andrew and Kenneth Clement of West Craig Lea Farm, Roddymoor, Crook, County Durham, who collected 50 bins a day of waste food from local schools, restaurants and the local police training college and passed it to swill processors. Mr Waugh is believed to have received some of this waste, which is understood to have been boiled by a third party.

Two weeks ago Andrew Clement was fined £400 for failing to keep feeding records and for taking unprocessed food back to the farm, and Kenneth Clement, £200 plus costs, for the untreated food. During their case at Bishop Auckland magistrates’ court, Don McFall, the defence lawyer, said there was nothing to suggest a link between the offences and the outbreak.

Mr Waugh maintained last night that he had used the proper heat treatment on all his supplies before feeding them to his pigs. He said: “I was still getting feed from Andrew Clement right up until the day before MAFF inspectors told me my animals had the disease.

He told me he got the swill from restaurants and colleges in Newcastle. I would boil it to the required temperature of 93.3 degrees and would continue to boil it at that temperature for four hours before feeding it to the pigs as recommended in guidelines.”

Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), March 27, 2001

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