Farm virus ‘came from laboratory’

Top scientist challenges Blair to come clean over outbreak

Sunday Express, April 15, 2001

By Yvonne Ridley

A SCIENTIST with 30 years’ experience of infectious diseases yesterday called on Tony Blair to "tell the truth" about the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Dr Harash Narang says the strain of virus which has devastated Britain’s livestock is not active in any other part of the world and could only have come from a UK laboratory.

He has written to the Prime Minister to call for a nationwide vaccination programme. Dr Narang’s move comes a week after the Sunday Express revealed that a test tube containing a sample of foot-and-mouth virus went missing from a top-secret Government laboratory two months before the outbreak was first reported. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food admits that the strain of virus behind the crisis is the Pan-Asiatic "0" Type, but says it has "no reliable" information to suggest the virus escaped or was deliberately removed from a laboratory.

Dr Narang, from Newcastle upon Tyne, has published nearly 100 papers on infections and in 1989 was the first scientist to identify a link between mad cow disease and its human form Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. He said: "From time to time research is done on foot-and-mouth vaccine but the only way it can be evaluated in trials is by giving it to an animal to study its effectiveness.

"This particular virus belongs to the same family as polio and in some cases it can turn back to its live state and become deadly again.

"Obviously no one is going to admit they’ve let the vaccine escape, accidentally or otherwise, so I do think there has been an initial cover-up combined with a great deal of ignorance. The result is the epidemic we have now"

Dr Narang, who spent 30 years in public health laboratories and is now a consultant in the private sector, added;

"People might sneer at this theory and I’m sure they did exactly the same when was an accidental outbreak of smallpox from the Birmingham Laboratory in the 1980s."

Meanwhile, farmers’ leader Bob Parry also criticised MAFF officials for not being "open" and said he would confront Mr Blair at their next meeting in 10 days’ time.

"I am tired of all this spin. Why doesn’t MAFF make an outright denial and put the record straight. The virus has either come from a laboratory or it hasn’t. It’s that simple," said Mr Parry leader of the Welsh Farmers’ Union.

Yesterday the nationwide total number of cases stood at 1,296. This included a second confirmed case in Northern Ireland.