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The British government moved quickly over the weekend to avoid a possible economic nightmare after some 60 animals on a farm southwest of London tested positive for foot-and-mouth disease, a malady that can be deadly to livestock and that, in 2001, caused millions of animals in the UK to be culled, killed and then cremated. In that outbreak of the disease, British meat was shut out of international markets, consumer confidence was severely tested, and rural tourism was badly hurt.

Already, British authorities have banned the export of live cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, as well as carcasses, meat and milk. The United States and Japan banned British pigs and pork products from being imported into those countries (British beef already is banned because of concerns about mad cow disease). And published reports predict that the European Union will move today to ban on British livestock from being exported to any of the EU’s 27 nations.

"Our first priority has been to act quickly and decisively," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "I can assure people ... we are doing everything in our power to look at the scientific evidence and to get to the bottom of what has happened and then to eradicate this disease."

According to the latest reports, British scientists say it is too soon to know how far the disease may have spread.

There also is much speculation this morning that the source of the contamination is a high-security laboratory near the infected farm that researches the disease and tests foot-and-mouth samples; scientists reportedly are reviewing the biosecurity measures at the research facility to see if they can ascertain if it is the source of the infections.
KC's View:
If, irony of ironies, a government-funded lab is the source of the problem, the Brits may have to rethink their definition of “high security.”