- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

NORMANDY, England (AP) — Britain’s health and safety agency said yesterday there was a strong probability that a foot-and-mouth outbreak in southern England originated at a vaccine lab and was spread by human movement.

The outbreak was discovered on a farm just four miles from the Pirbright vaccine laboratory, which is shared by the government’s Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and a private pharmaceutical company, Merial Animal Health, the British arm of Duluth, Ga.-based Merial Ltd.

There is a “real possibility” the disease was spread by human movement, and the possibility it was transmitted by air or floodwaters was “negligible,” the government’s Health and Safety Executive said in the report.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the possibility that the strain had been released by human movement would be urgently investigated. Foot-and-mouth virus can be carried by wind and on the vehicles and clothes of people who come into contact with infected animals.

“This will involve further interviews with personnel at the site. I have asked for a further report on these investigations as soon as possible,” Mr. Benn said.

He said footpaths in the protection zone covering two infected farms would be closed immediately.

A group of cows at a second farm was confirmed to have the disease yesterday.

Cranes piled cattle carcasses onto trucks and authorities slightly expanded the protection zone around a second farm in scrambling to halt the spread of the highly contagious virus to other herds in southern England.

Both farms, about 30 miles southwest of London, were within the initial two-mile radius protection zone set up Friday, Mr. Benn said.

News of a second confirmed outbreak prompted fear of a repeat of scenes in 2001, when 7 million animals were culled and incinerated. The drastic actions proved devastating to agriculture and rural tourism in Britain.

“We were starting to think this virus had been contained and maybe we were going to be getting back to normality in a few weeks,” Laurence Matthews, who owns the farm where the second infected herd grazed, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio yesterday.

“Now this has set us back again and most farmers — and I’ve been speaking to a few — are very, very scared,” he said, adding that the infected cows belonged to a fellow farmer who used his land.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said a second report was expected as early as today.

“The work goes on to isolate, to contain, control and eradicate the disease,” Mr. Brown said after the initial report was published.

The health and safety agency said Merial should not immediately resume production, despite a pending government order for 300,000 doses of foot-and-mouth vaccine.

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