British cattle test positive for foot-and-mouth

The British government said on Friday that cattle slaughtered on a farm south-west of London have tested positive for foot-and-mouth disease, confirming the second case in the country since August.

The disease was detected on Wednesday in cattle grazing near Egham in the county of Surrey, about 15km from the laboratories linked to the previous outbreak last month, said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

About 40 cattle and 800 pigs were slaughtered on Thursday on the farm, according to Steven Ward, the farm owner’s son.

Scientists are trying to determine whether the disease could have spread outside the containment zone around the farm that includes Heathrow Airport and Queen Elizabeth II’s Windsor Castle.

The official confirmation of the second case came as Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown met farmers at the National Farmers’ Union headquarters and chaired an emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers.

There is a current ban on trading or moving animals within England.

”It’s a combination of horror and huge blows for the poor upland farmers who rely on their pedigree sales at this time of the year,” said Prince Charles, who has an organic farm in Gloucestershire, west of London on the border with Wales.

As more livestock are moved worldwide, the chances for the spread of diseases increase, he told reporters during a visit to a museum in Scarborough, 340km north of London.

In a larger outbreak in 2001, thousands of cattle, sheep and pig carcasses were burned on large pyres across the country. The farming industry lost millions in revenue.

The British government has denied claims that the country’s chief veterinarian, Debby Reynolds, was pressured by political and economic interests to lift restrictions early following the first outbreak of the disease in August.

The government said it waited 30 days after confirming the last known case of the disease before giving the all clear.

Foot-and-mouth has an incubation period of between two and 14 days in animals. But it can survive for up to 50 days in water and be transferred by tractors and other farm vehicles.

The August outbreak was centred on a complex containing the government-funded Institute for Animal Health, a diagnostic laboratory, and vaccine maker Merial Animal Health, a British unit of the United States-French pharmaceutical firm Merial. — Sapa-AP

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