Britain hit by foot and mouth again (video)

( AFP ) - Britain was set to continue slaughtering animals near the site of a new outbreak of foot and mouth disease Thursday, just days after officials declared they squelched 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 European Union also reimposed a ban on British meat exports to the bloc's 26 member states, the European Commission said.

Britain's red meat export market is worth about 500 million pounds (731 million euros/one billion dollars) a year, mostly with the EU. Britain was the ninth largest beef exporter last year among the 27-member European Union.

Cattle were ordered slaughtered on the affected farm, near Egham, west of London. Egham is 13 miles ( 21 kilometres) from the village of Normandy, where foot and mouth disease was confirmed on August 3.

A three-kilometre (two-mile) protection zone was thrown around the farm holdings with a wider 10-kilometre 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.

After chairing a meeting of COBRA, Britain's top-level cell to cope with national crises, Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed that his government would do everything 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, 10 miles ( 16 kilometres) from Egham.

A leading scientist, Professor Hugh Pennington, said the latest outbreak is highly likely to be a resurgence of the strain which hit farmers last month.

Pennington, an emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, northern Scotland, said the disease could survive for as long as two months in cool, damp conditions, which the area has been enjoying in recent weeks.

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."

"As with the outbreak last month, we will be seeking to take a staged and risk-based approach to controls. I urge all animal keepers to remain vigilant and follow the most stringent of biosecurity measures."

Pigs in eastern England and a sheep in Scotland were tested Wednesday for the disease, with vets ruling out foot and mouth being the cause for the sheep's sickness. Officials downplayed the possibility of foot and mouth in connection with the pig.

The Dutch agriculture ministry, meanwhile, declared a total ban on the movement of cattle, pigs, goats and sheep after the case was confirmed in Britain.

The wider restriction zone around the new case in England encircles London Heathrow Airport -- Europe's busiest -- stretches of the M25 London orbital motorway, the M4 motorway to Wales and the River Thames, rail routes to central London -- including the main line to Wales and south-west England -- and Windsor Castle, which Queen Elizabeth II considers as her home.

Anthony Gibson, a spokesman for the National Farmers' Union, said: "We're going to be reliving the nightmare."

The outbreaks raised the spectre of a repeat of a 2001 crisis, in which up to 10 million animals were culled and which cost the national economy about eight billion pounds (11.7 billion euros, 16.0 billion dollars).

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