Source AP ©

Scientists continue to investigate new case of foot-and-mouth disease

British environmental authorities are still investigating a possible new case of foot-and-mouth disease in southern England.

A 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) control zone was established around premises near Petersfield, Hampshire, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) southwest of London, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said. It added that the measure was purely precautionary and that there was no proof yet of a new outbreak.

"We don't have definitive evidence. In the absence of that we are taking the most precautionary measures we can," a DEFRA spokeswoman said, speaking anonymously in line with government policy. "There there have been many cases like this, where we've had to seek further testing, and most them have proven not to be cases."

The control zone is more than 45 miles (70 kilometers) from Egham, on the southwest outskirts of London, where the most recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth was discovered.

Two outbreaks of the disease were discovered in August and September 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 site was blamed for leaking the virus into the environment over the summer.

If foot-and-mouth disease were found in Hampshire it would raise the possibility that the highly contagious disease had spread beyond the area immediately beyond the laboratories.

DEFRA said tests were continuing.

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals including cows, sheep, pigs and goats. It does not infect humans, but its appearance on farms can have a major economic impact.

Hundreds of animals have been slaughtered since the outbreak, at what is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for livestock sales.

In a larger outbreak in 2001, millions of cattle, sheep and pig carcasses were burned on large pyres across the country. The farming industry lost millions in revenue.

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