- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2007

From combined dispatches

British officials worked yesterday to determine whether this month’s outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was an accident or a deliberate act of sabotage.

Britain’s health and safety agency said that there was a “strong probability” the outbreak came from the Institute for Animal Health Laboratory in Pirbright, a village 30 miles southwest of London.

The British Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said sabotage could not be ruled out in the government’s investigation into the cause of the outbreak.

“The truth is we do not know. We’re all very anxious,” said Mr. Benn.

Mr. Benn said the outbreak was being investigated as “a matter of urgency” and that the two infected farms and paths leading to them had been closed.

Foot-and-mouth disease can be carried by wind and on the vehicles and clothing of people who come into contact with infected animals.

A report by Britain’s Health and Safety Executive concluded that there were various potential routes for “accidental or deliberate transfer of material from the site.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said officials were investigating a vegetable plot near one of the infected farms. Newspapers reported that they were looking into the possibility that a lab worker had carried the virus to the garden on boots or clothing.

The possibility the virus was transmitted by wind or floodwaters was negligible, said the Health and Safety Executive report.

A ban on moving livestock remained in place across England and Wales.

A group of cows at a second farm was confirmed to have the disease Tuesday. Cranes piled cattle carcasses onto trucks, and authorities slightly expanded the protection zone around the second farm, scrambling to halt the spread of the highly contagious virus to other herds in southern England.

A total of 214 animals had been killed on the two farms, DEFRA said. Both farms were within a two-mile radius protection zone set up Friday, Mr. Benn said.

News of a second confirmed outbreak fed fears of a repeat of scenes of 2001, when 7 million animals were destroyed and Britain’s agriculture and rural tourism industries were devastated.

Foot-and-mouth disease, sometimes referred to as hoof-and-mouth disease, is a highly contagious virus that is harmless to humans but is devastating for cattle, swine and other cloven-hoofed animals.

The disease is not to be confused with mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is a brain-destroying illness.

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