British Authorities Enforce Zone Around Farm Housing Cattle Infected With Foot-and-Mouth Disease

The strain of foot-and-mouth disease found on a farm in southern England was identical to one used at a nearby laboratory, Britain's environment agency said Saturday.

The highly infectious disease was detected on a farm outside Wanborough, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of London. A nearby government-funded lab is researching vaccines for the virus.

Britain banned exports of livestock, meat and milk Saturday after the outbreak of highly infectious foot-and-mouth disease and halted the movement of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs nationwide in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed to work "night and day" to avoid a repeat of a 2001 epidemic when 7 million cattle were culled and the farming industry was devastated.

"Our first priority has been to act quickly and decisively," said Brown, who returned to London from a summer holiday to deal with the outbreak. He chaired a meeting of the government's crisis committee, COBRA, on Saturday.

"I can assure people ... we are doing everything in our power to look at the scientific evidence and to get to the bottom of what has happened and then to eradicate this disease," he said.

The government-funded Institute for Animal Health's Pirbright Laboratory, which is researching the disease, is about six kilometers (four miles) from the affected farm.

The government's chief veterinarian, Debby Reynolds, ordered a new 10-kilometer (six-mile) protection zone to be set up around the farm and the lab.

The strain of the disease detected in the outbreak is not one recently found in animals, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or DEFRA, said in a statement.

Indications the virus came from the lab suggested the problem could be contained, said Andrew Biggs of the British Cattle Veterinary Association.

"The proximity of this farm to Pirbright was too much of a coincidence," he told the British Broadcasting Corp. television. "We know where it comes from now, but there are still chances of it spreading. ... I don't think we can let our guard down."

The movement of all cloven-hooved animals, including cattle and pigs, was banned nationwide Saturday after discovery of the disease on a farm near Wanborough, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of London. DEFRA also said Britain had banned the export of all animals with cloven hooves. The ban covers live animals, carcasses, meat and milk.

DEFRA said all its livestock would be slaughtered and incinerated. The cull of about 60 animals took place Saturday.

Veterinary workers in protective white coveralls rounded up cattle and put them into pens. Vehicles entering and leaving the farm were sprayed with disinfectant.

The government had said earlier the European Union would bar livestock imports from Britain in response to the outbreak, and Japan announced it was banning imports of British pork. British beef has been banned in Japan since the 1990s as a result of mad cow disease.

In the Netherlands, which was also affected in 2001, the government banned the transport of all livestock with cloven hooves in the country as a precaution. Authorities in Italy and Ireland urged herds in their countries be checked.

The case is the first in Britain since 2001, when the carcasses of many of the 7 million culled cattle were burned on huge pyres that dotted the country. The farming industry was devastated, huge swaths of the countryside were closed and rural tourism was badly hit.

Officials stressed on Saturday that there was no plan to burn the carcasses on pyres — a sight that had horrified many Britons.

Brown said officials were "doing everything in our power to avoid a repeat" of the scenes of six years ago.

Scientists were carrying out tests to determine whether vaccination would be possible to halt the spread of the disease. Police patrolled rural areas to ensure farmers did not move their animals.

Reynolds encouraged farmers to look for signs of illness in their livestock, and said there had been a "small number" of reports from other farms. None had so far proved to be foot-and-mouth.

The government was criticized for not using vaccines in 2001. A report on the epidemic by a senior scientific body, the Royal Society, concluded that vaccination should be a major tool of first resort in the event of future outbreaks.

Farmers near the infected site were worried, but hopeful that quick action would contain the disease.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed but there is really nothing we can do about it except wait," said Michael More-Molyneux, whose farm is about eight kilometers (five miles) from the infected site.

The 2001 outbreak started with a pig herd in northern England and spread to cows and sheep. It eventually infected more than 2,000 farms.

British taxpayers paid more than US$2 billion for compensation, disinfecting, veterinarians and the slaughter. The total cost to the country was estimated at 8 billion pounds (US$16 billion; euro12 billion at current values).

It was almost a year before Britain was declared free of the disease, and months more before British exports were allowed to resume.