Britain sets up new foot and mouth control zone

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LONDON, Sep 19 (Reuters) Britain has set up a foot and mouth control zone in central England and is awaiting test results after animals displayed symptoms of the disease, the government said today.

If the disease is confirmed in the zone, just south of Birmingham, it would be the first foot and mouth case outside southern England since an outbreak began in August, infecting five separate farms so far.

''This is a precautionary measure,'' the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said in a statement.

''Laboratory test results are awaited. At this stage, disease has not been confirmed,'' it added.

A temporary control zone was set up last week in Norfolk, eastern England, but tests later cleared the site of any suspicion and the zone was lifted.

Foot and mouth is a highly contagious disease which spreads easily on the wind. It can cause animals to foam at the mouth and collapse.

Earlier today, a new outbreak of the disease was confirmed in cattle on a farm in southern England, prompting the country's chief veterinary officer, Debby Reynolds, to urge farmers to heighten their vigilance.

''This is a disease which can be easily spotted in its early stages,'' Reynolds told a news conference. ''Immediate reporting of any suspicions is critical to the control of this disease.'' The farm, the fifth infected site in England since August, was inside a protection zone west of London set up last week when a new outbreak of the disease was discovered and hundreds of pigs and cattle were culled.

Two nearby sites in southern England were hit last week by foot and mouth. The first case came less than 24 hours after EU veterinary experts agreed to declare Britain free of the disease from Nov. 9 and lift an export ban imposed after an outbreak was found on two farms in August.

''We are satisfied ... that DEFRA have followed the book in terms of everything they did,'' said Richard MacDonald, director general of the National Farmers' Union.

Britain suffered a crippling outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 when more than 6 million animals had to be culled. The outbreak hit agriculture and tourism hard, costing the economy an estimated 17.14 billion dollar.

REUTERS GL BD2150

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