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Cattle on a farm within a surveillance zone set up by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Pirbright, England. - 


Kai Ryssdal: Farming experts over in Britain are breathing a little easier today. They say the latest outbreak of hoof and mouth disease appears to have been contained. No new cases since last Friday. So far, infection has been confined to a single farm south of London, and only a hundred cattle or so have been slaughtered.

But Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports the outbreak could hurt the U.K.'s wider rural economy.

Stephen Beard: As soon as he heard the news of the outbreak, Prime Minister Gordon Brown broke off his summer vacation and raced back to London to take control:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown: We realize there are very difficult decisions to make in this particular season where the farmers are working very, very hard indeed. We hope that in a short period of time, we can say that we've contained, controlled and eradicated this disease.

Brown has taken immediate and drastic action to halt the spread of the disease, banning the movement of all cattle, sheep and pigs anywhere in the country.

That will hit livestock farmers hard, says veterinary surgeon Phil Stimpson.

Phil Stimpson: Well it could be quite devastating for all sorts of reasons. They can't move animals, they can't take them for slaughter for meat production, they can't sell them. So they're completely stuck.

A $4 billion a year industry still recovering from the last hoof and mouth epidemic has suffered another setback.

But the government's more worried about damage to an even bigger industry — rural tourism, which earns $30 billion a year and supports 400,000 jobs. During the last epidemic, tourists were banned from visiting parts of the countryside. But not this time, since the outbreaks seems to be confined.

Environment minister Hilary Benn:

Hilary Benn: The countryside, as they say, is open for business. It's important that people get out there, continue to take advantage of the facilities and help support the businesses that are very important to the rural economy. And that's a message that I hope will be heard loud and clear.

That will depend on whether Britain's latest hoof and mouth outbreak has been stopped in its tracks.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.