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Foot-and-Mouth Disease Confirmed at British Farm: Report

A case of foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed at a British farm Wednesday, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Officials said they were investigating the suspected case but still awaited the results of laboratory tests. A slaughter of cattle was already under way at the farm, 30 miles from an outbreak in August, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs said.

Authorities set up a six-mile control zone, barring all animal movement around the affected area in Surrey, a county on the outskirts of London.

"The containment and eradication of foot-and-mouth disease is our top priority," Britain's Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said in a statement.

She said the disease had not yet been confirmed and officials were awaiting the results of laboratory tests.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown will chair an emergency meeting of senior officials.

The August outbreak was centered 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.

The laboratory uses live viruses for research, and Merial uses them to produce vaccines. Investigators believe the August outbreak originated from the site but were unable to determine whether it was from the government laboratory or Merial's vaccine factory.

Farmers said another outbreak would be a catastrophe to the industry, which has suffered a series of blows in recent years.

Six years ago a nationwide outbreak of the disease resulted in the slaughter of around 7 million sheep and cattle as government veterinary officials successfully halted the further spread of the disease.

The British agriculture industry estimated the disease led to losses of around $16 billion.

"Indications are that this could be a positive test, and if that's the case then it would be an absolute disaster for the farming industry that has worked so hard to eradicate the previous outbreak," National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall told Sky News television

The European Commission said it had suspended plans to allow the full trade of live British animal exports to resume in November. The suspension was put in place following the August outbreak.

EU veterinary experts were meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to assess the situation and decide on a possible meat export ban.