Slaughterhouse staff demand greater protection from virus;

April 25, 2001 The Independent (London) by Chris Gray

UNION LEADERS are to meet the Agriculture Minister Nick Brown tomorrow to demand greater protection for slaughtermen after an abattoir worker in Cumbria displayed symptoms of foot-and-mouth disease.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, will call for the establishment of precise health and safety standards for workers involved in the killing and disposal of thousands of sheep and cattle.

Mr Morris, whose union represents 30,000 agricultural and abattoir workers, said: "What we are not clear about is the level of protection that has been afforded to these workers and whether or not they are working to a code of conduct in the context of this virus."

Tests will reveal today whether a slaughterman in Cumbria has foot- and-mouth disease after fluid from an exploding cow carcass sprayed into his mouth. Downing Street said yesterday that even if he had contracted the virus, it would illustrate how difficult it was for foot-and-mouth to be transmitted to humans.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said stringent measures were already in place to protect slaughtermen working on infected farms. All workers were fully briefed and given protective clothing. "Everything is being done to the level of the risk assessed with the job that is being carried out," said a spokesman.

Lieutenant Commander Gary Newell said all soldiers involved in the cull had been advised to take extra care. "We have reminded them to continue to be careful about personal hygiene and protection."

The only other person known to have contracted foot-and-mouth disease was Robert Brewis. Mr Brewis startled the medical profession in the summer of 1966 by proving that humans could catch the disease.

He contracted the virus while working at his brother's farm near Rothbury, Northumberland. His symptoms disappeared after several weeks, then reappeared a week later and again after five months.

His step-daughter, Sylvia Rungien, said he had suffered no long-term ill -effects. "It was like a cold, really, and it just went away, so there was not much to worry about."

Mr Brewis, then aged 34, was offered pounds 20 compensation from Maff, although it did not accept liability. He died of a heart attack six years ago.

Restrictions around the Cheale Meats abattoir, near Brentwood in Essex, where the disease was first discovered, were lifted yesterday. A second area, in west Wiltshire, has also had restrictions lifted. Maff said 11,136 farms have now had restrictions lifted.

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