- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2007

WANBOROUGH, England (AP) — Britain raced to avert economic disaster yesterday by halting meat and dairy exports and the movement of livestock across the country after foot-and-mouth disease was found on a southern English farm.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed to work “night and day” to avoid a repeat of a 2001 outbreak, when millions of dead animals were burned on pyres, swaths of the countryside were closed, rural tourism was damaged and British meat was shut out of international markets.

“Our first priority has been to act quickly and decisively,” Mr. Brown said. “I can assure people … we are doing everything in our power to look at the scientific evidence and to get to the bottom of what has happened and then to eradicate this disease.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or DEFRA, said Britain had banned the export of live cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, as well as carcasses, meat and milk.

The United States and Japan immediately banned British pigs and pork products in response to the outbreak. British beef already is banned in both countries because of mad cow disease.

The European Union is likely to announce a ban on British livestock imports in the 27-nation bloc when its executive body meets tomorrow.

British authorities also imposed a nationwide ban on transporting cattle, sheep, goats and pigs in response to the outbreak.

Foot-and-mouth disease, sometimes referred to as hoof-and-mouth disease, is transmitted by a highly contagious virus that causes fever and blisterlike lesions on the mouths, teats and hooves of cattle, swine and other cloven-hoofed animals. It can be deadly in livestock but is harmless to humans.

Although many animals recover, the disease leaves them debilitated, causing major losses in meat and milk production.

DEFRA said animals on a farm near Wanborough, about 30 miles southwest of London, had tested positive for the disease. Officials did not specify how many animals were infected but said all livestock on the farm were slaughtered and incinerated.

The strain of the disease found in the farm was identical to one used at a nearby government-funded laboratory that is researching vaccines for the virus, DEFRA said. Officials are investigating other suspected sources, said the country’s chief veterinarian, Debby Reynolds.

The Institute for Animal Health’s Pirbright Laboratory is about four miles from the affected farm. Authorities have asked the lab to review its biosecurity procedures, Dr. Reynolds said. No one at the laboratory returned a phone message seeking comment yesterday.

Dr. Reynolds ordered a six-mile protection zone to be set up around the farm and the lab. She said a small number of reports showed illness among livestock on other farms in the country, but none proved to be foot-and-mouth disease.

Indications that the virus came from the lab suggest the problem could be contained, said Andrew Biggs of the British Cattle Veterinary Association.

“The proximity of this farm to Pirbright was too much of a coincidence,” he told British Broadcasting Corp. television. “We know where it comes from now, but there are still chances of it spreading. … I don’t think we can let our guard down.”

Farmers near the infected site said they were hopeful quick action would contain the disease.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed, but there is really nothing we can do about it except wait,” said Michael More-Molyneux, whose farm is about four miles from the infected site.

The 2001 outbreak started with a pig herd in northern England and quickly spread to cows and sheep. It eventually infected animals on more than 2,000 farms and shut Britain out of the world’s livestock export markets. The total cost to the country was estimated at $16 billion.

A year passed before Britain was declared free of the disease and months more before British exports were allowed to resume.

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