Saturday August 4, 9:18 am ET
By Romina Spina, Associated Press Writer
British PM Brown Promises Rapid Action to Track and Eliminate Foot-And-Mouth Disease Outbreak
LONDON (AP) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Saturday that authorities were doing "everything in our power" to track the source of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak and wipe out the animal illness before it wreaked economic devastation.
Meanwhile, Britain imposed a voluntary ban on exports of livestock and livestock products, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
The ministry said the ban applied to animals with cloven hooves such as cows, sheep and pigs. It covers live animals, carcasses, meat and milk and is effective immediately.
Speaking at his 10 Downing St. office, Brown said experts would work "night and day" to discover the origin of the outbreak on a farm in southern England as fast as possible.
"Our first priority has been to act quickly and decisively," said Brown, who cut short a summer holiday to deal with the crisis, which prompted a European Union ban livestock imports from Britain.
Japan said earlier that it had banned British pork imports. Beef imports from Britain have been banned in Japan since the outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1990s.
The European Union also banned livestock imports from Britain in reaction to the outbreak.
The outbreak is the first known case of the disease in Britain since 2001, when a foot-and-mouth epidemic started with a pig herd in northern England, spread to cows and sheep and eventually led to the slaughter of 7 million livestock, infected more than 2,000 farms and shut Britain out of the world's livestock export markets.
The government was accused of reacting too slowly, allowing the highly infectious disease to spread.
Many of the carcasses were burned on huge pyres that dotted the country, and large swaths of countryside were declared off-limits to visitors, damaging tourism. British taxpayers shelled out more than $2 billion for compensation, disinfecting, veterinarians and the slaughter. The total cost to the country was estimated at $16 billion at current values.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or DEFRA, said animals on the farm near Guildford, about 30 miles southwest of London, had tested positive for the disease, which does not affect humans.
DEFRA did not immediately say how many animals were infected, but said all animals on the farm would be slaughtered.
At the infected farm, veterinary workers in protective white coveralls rounded up cattle. Vehicles entering and leaving were sprayed with disinfectant.
Authorities imposed a two-mile radius protection zone and a surveillance zone of six miles around the farm.
Scientists were carrying out tests to determine the strain of the disease, and whether vaccination would be possible to halt its spread.
The government was criticized for not using vaccines in the 2001 epidemic. 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 nearby 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 five miles from the infected site.
"Farmers around the country will be hoping and praying that this is an isolated incident and that the disease is not already widespread, because last time when we found out about it, it was already everywhere," said Tim Bonner, spokesman for the Countryside Alliance. "We hope and pray that the lessons from last time have been learned."