UK suspects new foot and mouth case

British officials said on Friday they were investigating a new suspected case of foot and mouth outside a previously infected area, but the farmer involved said vets were sure his animals were disease-free.

Britain’s chief veterinary officer said early on Friday there was a new suspected case outside a 10km surveillance zone, undermining hopes that quick counter-measures may have held the outbreak to a small area of southern England.

But Laurence Matthews said a vet who inspected calves at his farm was ”absolutely sure” they did not have foot and mouth.

He told reporters he had called in government inspectors as a precaution as he had links to a farm in the infected area.

Officials hope to avoid any repeat of a devastating 2001 outbreak when more than six million farm animals were killed.

Chief veterinarian Debby Reynolds said there were ”clinical suspicions” of a further foot and mouth infection, which affects cloven-hoofed animals, but tests had yet to be carried out.

The latest farm under suspicion is near Dorking south-west of London, to the east of the surveillance area set up around two farms where the disease was found in the last week.

A 3km ”temporary control zone” has been set up around the new farm. Animals in the zone may not be sent for slaughter.

National Farmers’ Union officials voiced hope that it would turn out to be a false alarm but urged farmers to stay vigilant.

Chris Huhne, environment spokesperson for the opposition Liberal Democrats, told BBC radio that if a new case were proved, the government should look again at vaccinating cattle in an area around the outbreak to stop it spreading further.

The outbreak has led the European Union and other countries to ban British meat and is hurting farmers. Britain’s livestock industry has annual meat exports worth more than $1-billion.

The suspected new case came just 24 hours after abattoirs resumed the slaughter of animals after the government lifted a five-day ban on the movement of livestock for slaughter.

Foot and mouth is highly contagious, spreading easily on the wind, and causes animals to foam at the mouth and collapse.

As well as trying to contain its spread health inspectors are trying to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, which has led to 576 head of cattle being destroyed.

Suspicion has focused on Pirbright, a research site 8km from where cattle were infected. This houses two foot and mouth laboratories — one public and one, Merial, owned by United States firm Merck and French firm Sanofi-Aventis SA.

Both laboratories say they have strict safety measures. — Reuters

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Adrian Croft
Adrian Croft works from London, England. Reuters sub-editor in London. Previously Reuters European Defence Editor in Brussels and before that reported from UK, Spain, U.S., Latin America, South Africa. Adrian Croft has over 929 followers on Twitter.

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