UK Farmers Pray Outbreak Is Contained

The Associated Press
Monday, August 6, 2007; 6:02 PM

LONDON -- Michael Fordham remembers all too well the ravages of the foot-and-mouth epidemic that swept Britain in 2001 _ millions of cattle destroyed and a personal financial burden almost impossible to bear.

Six years later, government measures to contain a new outbreak of the highly contagious disease are threatening Fordham's farm of 90 head of cattle near the town of Uckfield in southern England.

"I couldn't believe it, it was absolutely staggering to think it could happen again," he said Monday. "And on top of all the flooding and bad weather."

Severe floods in June and July had already proved costly for farmers, and authorities were looking into the possibility that the flooding helped spread the virus.

On Monday night, authorities began slaughtering a new group of about 50 cattle suspected of being infected, Britain's Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said. The cows were within the initial 2-mile radius protection zone officials set up Friday around the Surrey farm. About 120 cows were destroyed after the virus was first detected last week.

Test results from the new group were expected Tuesday, but the precautionary slaughter had already begun, Reynolds told Sky News.

The investigation was focusing on a research laboratory near the Surrey farm where two cattle were discovered with the disease last week. The strain of the disease found in the infected cattle is the same one used at the laboratory.

Fordham heard news of the outbreak when he switched on the TV after a day in the fields doing long overdue work prevented by the rising waters, such as haymaking.

Now, a swift ban imposed by the government on all movement of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs nationwide threatens the viability of Fordham's small store at Bradford Farm. He was unable to send selected cattle to the slaughterhouse this week, and a longer ban would eventually drain his supply of goods for sale.

At the national level, the Farmers Union said the government's voluntary ban on exports of livestock, meat and milk has already cost millions of dollars. The ban was imposed Saturday, a day after the discovery of the disease at the Surrey farm.

The European Commission endorsed Britain's ban Monday. Each week it lasts is expected to cost Britain millions more, and a long-term ban is also likely to cause the domestic price of British meat to plummet.

"We know from long and bitter experience that a ban on exports leads to very low prices," said National Farmers' Union director of communications Anthony Gibson. "Further price cuts could be the last straw for an awful lot of people."

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