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Foot-and-mouth reported at British farm

/ Source: The Associated Press

Authorities confirmed a new foot-and-mouth outbreak on the outskirts of London on Wednesday, just days after the government lifted livestock restrictions following the appearance of the devastating disease last month.

The highly contagious disease was found in cattle grazing in Surrey, a county that borders London, and close to a laboratory that was linked to the August outbreak. The discovery created panic in farming communities that lost millions last month.

"I'm really worried because I've got loads of pigs, a few cattle and horses, and we were getting the pigs ready for slaughter tomorrow," said Andrew Parsons, a Surrey farmer.

The government imposed a nationwide ban on all livestock movement, while scientists tried to identify the strain and origin of the disease. Authorities also ordered the slaughter of about 300 cattle and pigs in the affected area, said Britain's chief veterinary officer, Debby Reynolds.

The European Union imposed its own ban on livestock movements from Britain.

"The utmost priority is to cull the animals to control disease and to put movement control around so that reduces the risk of any further spread," Reynolds told British Broadcasting Corp. television.

Farmers' fears were confirmed when the Institute for Animal Health confirmed a positive test for foot-and-mouth within an hour of receiving samples from the area of open fields, just five miles from Queen Elizabeth II's Windsor Castle.

The Aug. 3 outbreak led to Britain slaughtering about 600 animals and suspending exports of livestock, meat and milk products for nearly three weeks. The final restrictions on cattle movement following that outbreak were lifted on Saturday.

A grim reminder

The recent cases have offered a grim reminder of a 2001 outbreak of the disease that led to the slaughter of thousands of animals in huge pyres across the country and millions in lost revenue to British farmers.

"This is news that no one wanted to hear, least of all the farming industry. ... A national animal movement ban shows our determination to contain and eradicate this latest outbreak," said Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

The British agriculture industry estimated the disease led to losses of around $16 billion.

Officials have set up a six-mile control zone to monitor the outbreak in the affected area in Surrey, closing some roads to all traffic and causing major traffic jams in Egham, a small town of about 6,000 people in London's commuter belt.

"I'm really worried. This is so close to my home, and I really don't even know what foot-and-mouth disease is," said Joanna Watts, one of many residents who had to get police permission to drive home on roads that were closed in the control zone.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown chaired an emergency meeting of senior officials and said his government would do everything in its power to get to the root causes of the latest outbreak.

The August outbreak was centered near the government-funded Institute for Animal Health, a diagnostic laboratory, and Merial Animal Health, a British unit of the U.S.-French pharmaceutical firm Merial Ltd.

The laboratory uses live viruses for research, and Merial uses them to produce vaccines. Investigators believe the August outbreak originated from the site but they were unable to determine whether it was from the government laboratory or Merial's vaccine factory.

Farmers say another outbreak would be a catastrophe for the industry, which has suffered a series of blows in recent years.

The European Union adopted a new "emergency decision" designating Britain "a high risk area" until Oct. 15, ensuring a ban on transporting animals susceptible to foot-and-mouth disease between Britain and other EU nations. Northern Ireland is not affected.