- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

LONDON (Agence France-Presse) British Officials cordoned off two new farms yesterday to investigate for foot-and-mouth disease, renewing concern that an existing outbreak may have spread.

The government ordered 1.8-mile areas, called temporary control zones, to be set up around the farms in the neighboring counties of Kent and Surrey in southeast England.

“Both are precautionary measures following inconclusive assessments of clinical symptoms by animal health veterinary staff,” the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said.

The farms are outside the existing exclusion zone, which was established after the first case of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain since 2001 was confirmed near Guildford in Surrey just over 10 days ago.

The disease, sometimes called hoof-and-mouth disease, is a highly contagious virus that is harmless to humans but devastating to cattle, swine and other cloven-hooved animals,

A second case on a neighboring farm was confirmed shortly afterward but two more farms where the disease was suspected were later given the all-clear, raising hopes the outbreak had been successfully contained.

Farmer Stephen Furnival said he had raised the alarm yesterday at his property in Kent’s Romney Marsh area after noticing “unusual lesions” on the muzzles of his calves.

“I felt it was prudent to notify the authorities immediately. Samples will be taken and sent away for testing. All we can do now is wait and get the results, which we sincerely hope will be negative.”

Chris Older, from the National Farmers’ Union in Kent, said: “This is an example of a farmer doing exactly the right thing keeping a careful eye on his livestock and calling in the experts as soon as he noticed something was wrong.”

Britain’s chief veterinarian, Debby Reynolds, said containing and eradicating foot-and-mouth disease was a priority at what was now a key time in the battle against the disease.

“At this stage the disease has not been confirmed [at the new farms]; laboratory results will follow. We are in a crucial week for vigilance and planning next steps,” she said.

The government imposed an immediate ban on the movement of cattle, pigs and sheep as well as restricted areas around the affected farms after the first cases were discovered Aug. 3.

DEFRA said yesterday that the ban would remain in place and that the new farms with control zones would not be allowed to obtain licenses to move dead animals or live animals for slaughter.

Nearly 600 animals on three farms have been slaughtered, some as a precaution because of suspected “dangerous contact” with infected animals.

Public health officials are investigating whether the virus may have spread from an animal disease research center near the affected farms because the strain of the virus was identical to that used there recently.

The site, at Pirbright, houses the government-run Institute for Animal Health and the vaccine producer Merial Animal Health Limited, which is jointly run by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co. Inc. and France’s Sanofi-Aventis SA.

Both laboratories have denied any breach in their biosecurity procedures.

The European Union is set to hold a meeting of its veterinary expert group Aug. 23 to consider the possibility of easing its export ban on British meat and livestock, currently imposed until at least Aug. 25.

British farmers fear a repeat of the costly 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, which also prompted a European Union export ban and cost the national economy about $4 billion while devastating the agriculture sector.

Between 6.5 million and 10 million animals were slaughtered and later burned.

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