Brits must stamp out foot & mouth again

A warning sign hangs on the gate of a U.K. farm following its closure due to the outbreak of the highly-contagious cattle disease, foot and mouth.

Scott Jagow: Foot and mouth disease is back in Britain. An outbreak has prompted the U.S. and Japan to ban pork products from Britain. Beef is already banned because of mad cow disease. Our London correspondent Stephen Beard is with us. Stephen, how is the British government responding to this?

Stephen Beard: The British government has moved very fast indeed to contain this outbreak. All movements in livestock around Britain have been banned and the U.K. has imposed its own ban on the export of all animals and all animal products from the U.K.

Jagow: What kind of economic impact might this have?

Beard: Well it could be devastating. It certainly was in 2001. It's destroyed Britain's rural economy. Ten million sheep cattle and pigs were destroyed, Britain's meat and livestock export market collapsed, and perhaps most damagingly of all, tourism to the English countryside also collapsed. It's reckoned that it cost the U.K. about $16 billion.

Jagow: Now Stephen what do we know about this case, how it all got started?

Beard: Ironically, the likeliest culprit seems to have been an animal health research facility near the affected farms. Work was underway on a strain of the foot and mouth virus at that facility. Now there's a government-owned laboratory there and that laboratory is actually accusing a U.S.-owned pharmaceutical company called Merial for being responsible for the outbreak. Merial, which is a pretty big operation, employs about 5,000 people, denies there's been any breach of biosecurity but an inquiry is underway and within two days it's reckoned, we'll have a clearer idea of how this virus got out into the countryside and into the livestock which this facility was set up to protect.

Jagow: All right Stephen Beard in London thanks.

Beard: OK Scott.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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