New British Foot And Mouth Case Confirmed
EGHAM (Reuters) - Foot and mouth disease has struck a new cattle farm in southern England, the government said on Wednesday, prompting the European Union to suspend a decision to lift its ban on British meat exports.
The agriculture ministry said a surveillance zone of more than 10 km (6 miles) had been placed around the farm in Egham, Surrey, about 30 miles from the scene of the last confirmed outbreak in August. Veterinary authorities ordered an immediate cull of the herd in question.
"On the basis of these initial laboratory results and clinical symptoms, Debby Reynolds, UK Chief Veterinary Officer, has confirmed foot and mouth disease," the ministry said in a statement. It imposed an immediate ban on the movement of livestock in England, Scotland and Wales.
The new case came less than 24 hours after EU veterinary experts had agreed to declare Britain free of foot and mouth from November 9 and lift an export ban on meat, dairy products and live animals -- imposed after the disease was found on two farms in Surrey in July and August.
Britain suffered a crippling outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 when more than six million animals had to be culled. The outbreak hit agriculture and tourism hard, costing the economy an estimated 8.5 billion pounds ($17 billion).
Foot and mouth is a highly contagious disease which spreads easily on the wind. It can cause animals to foam at the mouth and collapse, and has an incubation period of up to three weeks.
"We're back to square one essentially. All farmers have to be very vigilant, keep their guard up and keep examining their stock," said Andy Biggs, senior vice president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown was due to chair a meeting of the government's emergency committee Cobra on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the outbreak.
Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union said the news was "an absolute disaster".
The value of British sheep, beef and pig exports, live animals and meat, was more than 500 million pounds ($1 billion) in 2006. Industry experts say British exports of livestock and meat are now worth about 15 million pounds a week.
"The major worry we could have now is that this could be a conventional FMD outbreak where animal-to-animal spread and animal movements are going to be more of a risk," said Biggs.
"The worry will be that we may now have unidentified animals with FMD which are still yet to be discovered," he said.
Chief veterinary officer Reynolds urged all animal keepers to remain vigilant for disease and "practice the highest standards of biosecurity".
"The containment and eradication of foot and mouth disease is our top priority," she said in a statement.
An investigation into the July/August outbreak highlighted biosecurity breaches at a nearby government-funded laboratory, the Institute of Animal Health.
Britain's Health and Safety Executive issued a separate report in which it said it was "highly likely" the virus entered a drainage system shared by the institute and another commercially owned research laboratory on the same site.
(Additional reporting by Stefano Ambrogi, Veronica Brown, Tim Castle, David Clarke, Sumeet Desai, Kate Kelland and Jeremy Lovell)
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