Fri, Sep 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Foot-and-mouth source remains a mystery


Scientists investigating the latest outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain have not yet identified the strain of the virus, a key clue to tracing the source of the disease, officials said yesterday.

``We will have those results later on today,'' British Agriculture Secretary Hilary Benn said.

"The question of course is whether this is in effect a continuation of the previous outbreak. What is puzzling is that more than a month has elapsed since the last confirmed case -- the incubation period is two to 14 days," Benn said.

The slaughter of animals near the site of the new outbreak was to continue yesterday, just days after officials declared they had halted its spread and lifted restrictions.

The new case was discovered close to a farm south of London where an outbreak was first reported last month, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was quick to impose a new England-wide ban on the movement of cattle, sheep, pigs and other ruminants.

The EU also reimposed a ban on British meat exports to member states, the European Commission said.

Britain's red meat export market is worth about ?500 million (US$1 billion) a year.

Cattle were ordered slaughtered on the affected farm, near Egham, west of London. Egham is 21km from the village of Normandy, where foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed on Aug. 3.

A 3km protection zone was thrown around the farm holdings, with a wider 10km surveillance zone imposed on the farm.

Animals on the farm next to that site were to be slaughtered because they were suspected of having been infected, Defra said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

"This is a precautionary measure and was identified by Animal Health during surveillance this afternoon," it said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed that his government would do everything it could to stamp out the disease and find its "root cause."

An official investigation last week concluded that the earlier outbreak was probably caused by leaking drains, flooding and vehicles moving from nearby animal vaccine laboratories without pinpointing the exact source.

The laboratories are at Pirbright, 16km from Egham.

Britain's Chief Vet Debby Reynolds said the authorities were vigilant after she confirmed the new case of foot-and-mouth disease.

"There are other reported cases being investigated, including one in Norfolk in some pigs, where foot-and-mouth disease can't be ruled out," Reynolds told BBC television earlier.

She added in a statement: "This is a developing situation. Our objective is to contain and eradicate the disease."

Pigs in eastern England and a sheep in Scotland were tested on Wednesday for the disease, with vets ruling out foot-and-mouth being the cause for the sheep's sickness.

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