- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2007

LONDON (AP) — Michael Fordham remembers all too well the ravages of the foot-and-mouth epidemic that swept Britain in 2001 — millions of cattle destroyed and a personal financial burden almost impossible to bear.

Six years later, government measures to contain a new outbreak of the highly contagious disease are threatening Mr. Fordham’s farm of 90 head of cattle near the town of Uckfield in southern England.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was absolutely staggering to think it could happen again,” he said yesterday. “And on top of all the flooding and bad weather.”

Severe floods in June and July proved costly for farmers, and authorities were looking into the possibility that the flooding helped spread the virus.

The infected cows were within the initial 2-mile radius protection zone officials set up Friday around the Surrey farm. About 120 cows were destroyed after the virus was first detected last week.

Test results from a new group of about 50 cattle were expected today, but authorities had already begun slaughtering them as a precaution, Britain’s chief veterinary officer, Debby Reynolds, told Sky News.

The investigation was focusing on a research laboratory near the Surrey farm where two cows were discovered with the disease last week. The strain of the disease found in the infected cattle is the same one used at the laboratory.

Mr. Fordham heard news of the outbreak when he switched on the TV after a day in the fields doing long-overdue work prevented by the rising waters, such as haymaking.

Now, a swift ban imposed by the government on all movement of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs nationwide threatens the viability of Mr. Fordham’s small store at Bradford Farm. He was unable to send selected cattle to the slaughterhouse this week, and a longer ban would eventually drain his supply of goods for sale.

At the national level, the Farmers Union said the government’s voluntary ban on exports of livestock, meat and milk has already cost millions. The ban was imposed Saturday, a day after the discovery of the disease at the Surrey farm.

The European Commission endorsed Britain’s ban yesterday. Each week it lasts is expected to cost Britain millions more, and a long-term ban is also likely to cause the domestic price of British meat to plummet.

“We know from long and bitter experience that a ban on exports leads to very low prices,” said National Farmers’ Union Director of Communications Anthony Gibson. “Further price cuts could be the last straw for an awful lot of people.”

The European Union, which was accused of retaining its 2001 ban longer than necessary, tried to ease some of the economic impact this time. It said it would allow imports of animal products produced before July 15, which were treated in a way to inactivate the virus, and those manufactured in Britain but derived from animals raised outside the country.

Imports of British pigs and pork products have been banned by the United States, Japan, Russia and South Korea in response to the outbreak. The United States and Japan have bans in place on British beef imports.

Britain’s Meat and Livestock Commission said cattle and beef exports in 2006 were worth more than $200 million. Sheep and sheep-meat exports were valued at almost $510 million, while pig and pork exports accounted for nearly $360 million.

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