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New Case of Foot-And-Mouth Disease Hits Britain
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New Case of Foot-And-Mouth Disease Hits Britain



Britain has been shocked by a new case of foot-and-mouth disease. It was just four days ago that the government declared it had successfully eradicated the highly contagious disease. Now there's a national ban on the movement of cattle, sheep, and pigs. And the European Union has reimposed its ban on livestock exports from Britain.

NPR's Rob Gifford has been talking with British farmers in northwest England. And he joins us on the line. And Rob, what are the farmers saying about this new outbreak?

ROB GIFFORD: Well, of course they're very angry. Yes, I'm here in rural Cumbria. I've just been into one of the big stone farmhouses here. The farmer just told me that he was supposed to sell 350 of his sheep tomorrow, a crucial source of income for him. And now he can't move them. So there's going to be a ban that's going to prevent him selling them for a month. And then, of course, when he can sell them, all of the sheep are going to come onto the market, flood onto the market at the same time, and he'll probably get a lower price for them.

So the farmers are very upset about this. I'm supposed to be going to the Westmorland show later today. That's a huge agricultural show here in Cumbria. And there won't be any livestock there - an agricultural show without any livestock. And I'm sure I'm going to hear more angry voices there as well.

MONTAGNE: And do they know the source of this new case?

GIFFORD: Well, the source is rather interesting because just last month, in a farm just outside London, there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth. And it was discovered that it came from a government lab - a laboratory that was looking into vaccination, how to find vaccinations against foot-and-mouth. And through some kind of a leaky piping or something, that's what they're saying, the virus got out and somehow infected a local herd. They dealt with that. They culled the animals. And now, months later, we're now getting this new case.

The big question is, is this linked to that previous case, in which case we're looking at a situation where the government lab that is trying to deal with foot-and-mouth may actually have created a new cycle of infection of foot-and-mouth, which of course is only deepening the anger of the farmers who are so greatly affected.

MONTAGNE: Well, yeah. One can imagine. How is this going to impact the farming community? Those angry voices suggest it might have a serious impact.

GIFFORD: Well, it is because I think the feeling here, certainly of the farmers I've been talking to, that farming is really in meltdown anyway here in Britain. The ban that has been imposed, as you mentioned, by the European Union, the British meat market is, you know, they get about a billion dollars a year from this.

And so it does provide a lot of income, their only income. If they can't sell their animals, it's going to have a massive effect. And there is a feeling here in rural England very much that the government, the urban government, doesn't actually care enough and is not really doing enough because it's obsessed with urban issues, and it just doesn't understand the countryside.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, Rob, what is the government doing to help these British farmers?

GIFFORD: Well, the government is trying to say that it is doing something. It's convened the Cobra cell, the top level government meeting group that convenes after, for instance, after the terrorism attack two years ago. This is a very high level. They're talking about it at the highest level. Gordon Brown is speaking to the farmers about it, but he's going to have to do a lot to appease the anger that is directed at the government here in rural England.

MONTAGNE: Rob, thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Rob Gifford speaking to us from northwest England.

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