Tests confirmed a second outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease southwest of London, Britain's environment secretary said yesterday, raising fears the highly contagious virus could spread to herds across southern England.
A second batch of cows, tested late on Monday, were within the initial 3km radius protection zone set up on Friday around the farm where a first group of infected cattle was found, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said.
Officials began slaughtering the second herd yesterday.
The outbreak, 50km southwest of London, occurred just 6.5km from a laboratory that produces vaccines containing the same rarely seen strain of foot-and-mouth disease, officials said.
Benn was expecting an initial report yesterday following checks to see whether there have been breaches in security or safety at the laboratory, which is the focus of investigations into the outbreak.
News of a second confirmed outbreak fed fears of a repeat of scenes in 2001, when 7 million animals were culled and incinerated on pyres, devastating agriculture and rural tourism in Britain.
"We were starting to think this virus had been contained and maybe we were going to be getting back to normality in a few weeks," farmer Laurence Matthews, who owns the farm where the second infected herd had grazed, told BBC radio yesterday.
"Now this has set us back again and most farmers, and I've been speaking to a few, are very, very scared," he said.
Matthews said the infected cows belonged to a fellow farmer who used his land.
Matthews called for local footpaths to be closed within the exclusion zone, saying some farmers believed the virus could be carried and spread on the feet of walkers passing through the area.
The outbreaks come on the heels of widespread flooding, and investigators were investigating the possibility that the flooding might have helped spread the virus.
Britain's Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said on Monday that the strain found in the first herd matched samples taken during Britain's 1967 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
The strain had not been seen in animals for a long time -- but was used to produce vaccines, she said.