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Britain to Ease Ban on Some Cattle Shipments

For the first time since the confirmation of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain earlier this month, the government has decided to ease restrictions on livestock shipments in areas outside of the affected zone in southern England. For VOA, Tom Rivers reports from London.

Five days into the intense investigation into the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak here, government veterinarians have concluded that containment appears to be working well and eased the nationwide ban on livestock transport. From midnight local time Thursday, some cattle shipments outside the 10-kilometer surveillance zone around the affected farms will be permitted under strict guidelines.

The European Union, meanwhile, kept a ban on British meat and dairy exports, and Britain itself retained a self-imposed export ban on such products.

Chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds says all the necessary bio-security measures will be taken from the farms to the slaughterhouse.

"The ban on movements of FMD [foot and mouth disease] susceptible animals remains in place across Great Britain," said Reynolds. "However, the decision has been taken today to permit the movement of live animals direct to slaughter and the collection of dead animals from farms from midnight tonight."

So far, more that 200 head of cattle have been slaughtered in this outbreak. Reynolds says all tests indicate the same infection source, an old strain dating back to 1967.

"Test results this morning have revealed that the strain of FMD found on the second premises is OFBFS67-like virus," said Reynolds. "This appears to be the same as the strain identified on the first farm on the 4th of August."

Although it looks like the quick movement by the government may have contained the spread of the highly contagious disease, farms within the restricted zone remain under intense scrutiny. Chief vet Reynolds says another farm is now facing the loss of all of its livestock.

"I have this morning ordered culling on suspicion of foot-and-mouth disease on one farm adjacent to the second farm infected premises in the protection zone," added Reynolds. "I cannot rule out that disease is developing on the premises."

Meanwhile, given the old strain of the virus, suspicion is focussing on an animal vaccine plant where a vaccine production run on the 1967 version of the disease was made in mid-July.

Health investigators are looking into the possibility that it may have been transferred outside of the facility by an employee, either accidentally or deliberately. But officials at the plant, the privately run Merial Animal Health laboratory, reject the claim, saying there is no evidence the virus was transported out of its center by humans.

The disease affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cows and pigs and is spread mostly through direct contact between animals or through contaminated feed. The virus poses no known risks to humans.