Foot and mouth scare in New Zealand likely to be hoax

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Waiheke Island, New Zealand

The New Zealand Government has been forced to act because of a letter sent to Prime Minister Helen Clark which claimed that the disease Foot and Mouth is being intentionally spread on Waiheke Island.

The letter, which is assumed to be a hoax, could have a major impact on New Zealand's meat industry. Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton went so far as to say that the suspension of meat exports by some countries was a real possibility.

The incubation period of foot and mouth disease is such that if animals have been infected, signs should be evident within ten days. In the meantime, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry experts and veterinarians, many with experience gained in the recent United Kingdom outbreak, are conducting intensive monitoring of the Island's susceptible animals. All sheep and cattle are being individually inspected every 48 hours. Meanwhile, restrictions on the movement of livestock are in place, so that in the very unlikely event that there has been a release of the disease, the effects will be contained.

Police efforts are underway to track the origin of the letter that initiated the scare.

Update 16 May, 2005

The foot-and-mouth scare is effectively over after a second letter confirmed it was a hoax. But Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials would continue low level monitoring on the island until next Monday.