Use germ war gear to test pyres, says expert

April 17, 2001 The Daily Telegraph (London) by Charles Clover 
and Sandra Barwick

BRITAIN should use its germ war defence equipment to check if pyres are transmitting the virus to new sites, an expert on foot and mouth said.

Smoke could explain the unusual way the outbreak had spread, said Prof Fred Brown, former deputy director of the ministry's animal disease research unit and now working at America's research centre into foot and mouth disease.

Government scientists have admitted that no air sampling has been performed round pyres despite reports from farmers that infections appear to follow their smoke.

Dr Brown said scientists had debated for decades whether pyres could spread the disease without sufficient evidence but modern technology could now provide the answer.

"Huge volumes of air downwind could be sampled in the 'collectors' which the Defence Ministry, like its American counterpart, has and checked for the presence of the virus," he said.

The National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection has also said it would like to see direct monitoring of pyre plumes to assess the risk not only from the virus but also from dioxins and other pollutants.

"Foot and mouth burning is on course to be the biggest single source of dioxin emissions in Britain," said Tim Brown, deputy secretary. Anthony Burgess, visiting professor of combustion science at University College London, has called for urgent tests on an actual pyre.

The risk is that infectious material could be sent into upward hot air currents when carcasses explode in the heat of the fire. David Maclean, MP for Penrith and the Border, said: "We have reasonably good evidence that today's pyre is a foot and mouth outbreak downwind in 10 days' time."

The report into the 1967 outbreak recommended burying rather than burning because of the possibility of spreading the virus by thermal air currents.

People in north Devon demonstrated yesterday against plans to burn 15,000 carcasses at South Arscott, a mile from the town of Holsworthy.

Richard Lawson, a GP and foot and mouth co-ordinator for the Green Party, from North Somerset, told 800 demonstrators that there was a definite health risk.

Using ministry figures, he calculated that between six and 30 doses of CJD or BSE are released for every 100 beef cattle over the age of five years burned on pyres.

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