EGHAM (Reuters) - Foot and mouth disease has struck a new cattle farm in Surrey, the government said on Wednesday, prompting the European Union to ban British meat, dairy and livestock exports.
The agriculture ministry said a surveillance zone of more than 10 km (6 miles) had been placed around the farm in Egham, about 50 km from the scene of the last confirmed outbreak in August. Veterinary authorities ordered an immediate cull of the herd in question.
“On the basis of these initial laboratory results and clinical symptoms, Debby Reynolds, the Chief Veterinary Officer, has confirmed foot and mouth disease,” the ministry said in a statement. It imposed an immediate ban on the movement of livestock in England, Scotland and Wales.
Britain suffered a crippling outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 when more than six million animals had to be culled. The outbreak hit agriculture and tourism hard, costing the economy an estimated 8.5 billion pounds.
Foot and mouth is a highly contagious disease which spreads easily on the wind. It can cause animals to foam at the mouth and collapse, and has an incubation period of up to three weeks.
Later on Wednesday the ministry said it had sealed off a farm in eastern England because of a suspected outbreak, but the presence of the disease had not yet been confirmed.
“The veterinary officer who visited from animal health simply couldn’t completely rule out foot and mouth disease. It’s not strongly suspected,” Reynolds told BBC television.
The new case in Surrey came less than 24 hours after EU veterinary experts had agreed to declare Britain free of foot and mouth from November 9 and lift an export ban on meat, dairy products and live animals — imposed after the disease was found on two farms in the county in July and August.
In response to the latest outbreak, EU vets imposed an emergency ban on all British exports of fresh meat, livestock and dairy products. Veterinary experts would meet again to review the decision, most likely on Tuesday, officials said.
Vets said it would be possible to tell if the virus in the new outbreak was the same as the previous two — the best case scenario — but that it could take several days.
“We’re back to square one essentially. All farmers have to be very vigilant, keep their guard up and keep examining their stock,” said Andy Biggs, senior vice president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association.
Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union, said the news was “a hammer-blow to the industry which has left livestock farmers stunned”.
“This outbreak could not have come at a worse time, with tens of thousands of stock moving from upland to lowland farm areas in the next few weeks,” he said.
The value of British sheep, beef and pig exports, live animals and meat, was more than 500 million pounds in 2006. Industry experts say British exports of livestock and meat are now worth about 15 million pounds a week.
An investigation into the July/August outbreak highlighted biosecurity breaches at a nearby government-funded laboratory, the Institute of Animal Health.
The Health and Safety Executive issued a separate report which said it was “highly likely” the virus entered a drainage system shared by the institute and another commercially owned research laboratory on the same site.
Additional reporting by Stefano Ambrogi, Veronica Brown, Tim Castle, David Clarke, Sumeet Desai, Kate Kelland and Jeremy Lovell