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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 August 2007, 07:00 GMT 08:00 UK
Farmers restart livestock moves
Restricted zone
A 3km (1.8 mile) protection zone is in place around the affected farms
Farm animals can be taken to abattoirs for the first time since the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Surrey led to a ban on the movement of livestock.

The restrictions were lifted at midnight for farmers outside the county's surveillance zone.

Farmers welcomed the "first step" on the way to restoring normality.

Meanwhile, test results on animal carcasses culled on a third farm, next to the second farm already affected, may not be available until Friday.

HOW FOOT-AND-MOUTH SPREADS
Direct contact, from animal to animal
Fluid from an infected animal's blister; saliva, milk or dung also pass on the disease
Animals eating infected feed
Virus can be spread by people or vehicles, if not disinfected
Airborne spread of disease also possible
Animals can begin spreading virus before visible signs of disease emerge
Source: Defra

Health inspectors are looking into the possibility that the disease was originally transferred by employees at vaccine manufacturer Merial, based just a few miles from the farms.

Soil samples from the Merial site are being tested and the results are due on Thursday.

The easing of restrictions means that animals can be transported direct to slaughter and the collection of dead animals from farms can take place under licence.

Other movements of livestock, such as sending animals to market, are still banned.

Some restrictions had already been lifted in Scotland and Wales.

The Veterinary and Technical Director for the Meat Hygiene Service, Jane Downs, told the BBC's Today programme that, despite the easing of restrictions, it was still not business as usual.

"Animals can only move from outside the surveillance and protection zones and they have to go to specifically-approved abattoirs," she said.

"This is to minimise the risk of spread of infection should an animal be harbouring the disease and slaughterhouse operators have to comply with strict conditions, particularly focused on their bio-security."

'Remain vigilant'

National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said: "This is a measured and very necessary first step on the road towards getting the industry back to normal and maintaining supplies of home-produced meat to consumers."


But it was "as vital as ever that livestock farmers remain vigilant, check their stock regularly and report anything suspicious immediately", he added.

Jonathan Long, from Farmer's Weekly, said the lifting of the restrictions would not go far enough for some farmers.

"Basically, we're looking at no movements apart from those direct to slaughter or for moving cattle across the road for milking or for emergency vet treatment," he told BBC News.

"That will hamper, particularly, the sale season for the sheep sector at the moment which is due to kick off in a big way in the next month or so."

A European Union export ban on British meat and livestock remains in place.

Link discovered

The first cases of foot-and-mouth were found in cattle at Woolford Farm, near Guildford, on Friday and a second outbreak was confirmed at a farm on Monday. Cattle in both cases have been culled.

And tests are also being carried out on the carcasses of cows, sheep, pigs and goats that were slaughtered on a third farm on suspicion of having foot-and-mouth.

READ THE FINDINGS

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The Health and Safety Executive has said there is a "strong probability" the outbreak began at the Pirbright research site, home to both Merial and the state-run Institute for Animal Health.

Both facilities had been using the strain of the virus, but the HSE did not specify which of the two was to blame.

It is understood, however, that investigations have discovered a link between problems with drainage and the possible actions, accidental or deliberate, of Merial employees who may use nearby allotments.

Merial said it had conducted "intensive internal investigations" and had "complete confidence" in its processes and procedures.

It confirmed one of its employees had accompanied investigators to an allotment but said there was "no evidence linking this member of staff to the outbreak".

Following criticism from some farmers and opposition parties, all footpaths within the 3km (1.8 mile) protection zone around the affected farms in Surrey have been closed.

A 10km (6.2 miles) surveillance zone is also in place.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Farmers give their response to the lifting of restrictions



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