September 13, 2007 in Nation/World

Livestock disease back in Britain

Mary Jordan Washington Post

LONDON – British officials confirmed a new outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease Wednesday, days after the government said it had eradicated the disease that has bankrupted farmers and led to bans on British beef exports.

A few hundred cattle and pigs in and near a farm in Surrey, on the outskirts of London, were slaughtered Wednesday, and a six-mile protective zone was set up around the farm to try to contain the highly contagious disease. The farm is about 10 miles from the site of an August outbreak near animal vaccine laboratories.

Four days ago, officials lifted a nationwide ban on the movement of livestock that was put in place after the August outbreak. That ban was immediately reimposed Wednesday.

The president of the National Farmers’ Union, Peter Kendall, called the new outbreak “a hammer blow to the industry which has left livestock farmers stunned.”

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, deer and other animals and leads to lesions in the animals’ mouths and on their hooves. A severe outbreak in 2001 led to the slaughter of millions of animals, and the livestock industry lost $16 billion.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who convened an emergency meeting Wednesday, said, “We will do everything in our power to get to the root cause of what has happened.”

An official investigation last week concluded that the August outbreak was probably caused by leaking drains, flooding and vehicles moving from the vaccine laboratories.

The new case in Egham, Surrey, is about seven miles from Heathrow Airport and near central roads and rail lines, leading to concerns over whether the disease that is so easily transferred has been contained. The affected area is also near Windsor Castle, one of the homes of Queen Elizabeth II and a popular tourist attraction.

On Tuesday, European officials said they were planning to lift restrictions on the import of British meat, livestock and dairy products. But after hearing about the new outbreak Wednesday, they announced that Britain remained a “high risk” area and that those restrictions would remain in place.

“This is news that no one wanted to hear,” Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said.

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