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Second letter says Foot and Mouth threat a hoax

Second letter says Foot and Mouth threat a hoax

A second letter, received today by Wellington’s Dominion Post newspaper, has stated that the claims made last week are a hoax and that no foot and mouth virus was released in New Zealand.

Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Marshall said that document examination was not complete, but Police believed there were strong similarities between the second letter and the original letter sent to the Prime Minister’s office last week.

“Forensic examination will continue so we can become certain of the link between the two letters.

“We have received additional confirmation from a second overseas law enforcement agency which has analysed the first letter and concluded that it posed a very low threat. The second agency is a reputable North American law enforcement organisation and its preliminary assessment matches that provided by Victoria Police in Australia.”

MAF Director of Biosecurity Dr Barry O’Neil said the new information reinforced the strong and growing conviction that the claims were a hoax.

“Intensive surveillance on the island and extensive investigations over the past week have shown no evidence of clinical signs of foot and mouth disease or factual substance to the original letter.

“Given the potential implications for New Zealand’s agricultural sector and our international trading obligations, MAF always felt the need to act in a cautious manner to ensure New Zealand’s economy and trading partners were protected. As a result of this additional information and the surveillance results thus far, MAF now intends to remove the legal restrictions covering the movement of animals and risk goods off Waiheke Island by 5pm on Tuesday 17 May 2005. MAF will, however, continue with a low level of monitoring of livestock on the island until 23 May 2005,” Dr O’Neil said.

Dr O’Neil said New Zealand had always been Foot and Mouth Disease free but had to take a prudent and cautionary approach to the claimed threats. We acknowledge the tremendous support of Waiheke Islanders and the New Zealand public.

New Zealand Food Safety Authority Executive Director Dr Andrew McKenzie said: “New Zealand’s trading partners and OIE (the world animal health organisation) will be informed of these developments and our intentions overnight. We gratefully acknowledge the responsible positions of our trading partners and are grateful for their offers of assistance.”

Mr Marshall said: “Despite receipt of the second letter, as these claims have recklessly endangered New Zealand’s agricultural sector, there will be no let up in the investigation to identify and prosecute the perpetrator”.

No further press comment will be made tonight. Media are invited to a press conference at MAF, ASB Bank House, 101-103 The Terrace, Wellington at 6am on Tuesday 17 May 2005.

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