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Britain Considers Hoof and Mouth Vaccination Program - 2001-08-30

The British government has been told it should reverse policy and begin vaccinating animals against hoof-and-mouth disease. At the same time, Scotland wants tighter controls on its border with England to keep the disease from spreading.

Britain is considering vaccination of livestock against hoof-and-mouth disease, an option the government has rejected since an outbreak of the disease in February. The main argument against vaccination is that it would cripple British meat exports, since many countries refuse to import meat from vaccinated animals.

However, the government's chief adviser on countryside affairs, Ewen Cameron, has come out in favor of a pilot vaccination program. Mr. Cameron says the British public will no longer support the mass slaughter of animals, which has been the chief method of combating hoof-and-mouth.

More than 3.5 million animals have been slaughtered since February, many cremated in huge pyres as authorities shut down large sections of the countryside.

Mr. Cameron's agency says the hoof-and-mouth epidemic has cost the British economy nearly $6 billion. Mr. Cameron says there also has been a heavy toll in human suffering. "In terms of the social implications, the [telephone] calls to the stress networks have been 20 times more than in previous years," he says. "So there is [are] severe social effects of the disease."

Meanwhile, in Scotland, farmers are calling for tighter controls along the border with England to halt the spread of hoof-and-mouth disease. The appeals come after fresh outbreaks this week in Northumberland, a county in northeastern England that borders Scotland.

Scottish farmers hope to resume meat exports next month, if they can demonstrate to European Union authorities that Scotland remains free of hoof-and-mouth cases.

Hoof-and-mouth disease is caused by a highly infectious virus. It is often fatal to young animals, though it is harmless to humans.