Government agricultural officials have confirmed another four cases of foot-and-mouth today, raising the present total to 24 and making the present outbreak bigger than that of 1967.
 
The six confirmed cases were discovered at two farms in Powys, Wales; a farm at Llangowan, Herefordshire; a sheep farm at Stonesby, near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire; a farm at Highampton in Devon and at an abattoir at Great Harwood, near Preston, Lancashire. Officials are also investigating the first suspected outbreak of the disease in Northern Ireland and a case in Lincolnshire.
 
Chief veterinary officer John Scudamore told a briefing at the Ministry of Agriculture this morning that the outbreak in one of the Powys farm has yet to be linked to previous outbreaks or contact with infected animals. As the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease showed no sign of abating, Scudamore said the situation was changing all the time and more cases would come to light.

102 farms have been placed under restrictions by the government, while the total number of animals which have either been slaughtered or are due to be culled is now believed to be 11,000. The animals involved include 1,000 cattle, 8,500 sheep and 1,500 pigs.

The government yesterday extended the overall ban on moving livestock until March 16 but will allow farmers to move disease-free animals under strict conditions. It is also enforcing special powers to close footpaths and rights of way to the public.

The disease is also taking its toll on sporting fixtures, with all horse-racing in England and Wales cancelled from Wednesday. A rugby union match between Ireland and Wales in Cardiff has also been cancelled due to fears that travelling supporters could carry back the infection to Ireland.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown revealed a £152m rescue package for pig, beef, sheep and dairy farmers following talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair and other members of the government on Tuesday. Brown said there would be no compensation for hauliers, abattoirs and food processing firms hit by the outbreak. The money for the government's compensation package will be drawn from a European Commission fund.

No recorded cases of foot-and-mouth have been discovered in mainland Europe, but the crisis may not be confined to the UK. Livestock from a British exporting farm have the disease and has exported livestock to Europe before the outbreak was confirmed in the UK.

Vets in Germany yesterday found sheep that showed antibodies to the ailment but had apparently not contracted the disease. Two farms in the western state of North-Rhine Westphalia have now been quarantined. France announced today it is destroying 20,000 sheep imported from Britain.

Meanwhile it emerged yesterday that the owner of the farm where the disease originated had fed his pigs from swill made from school dinners.

Bobby Waugh of Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, said: "All my swill is out of schools, it is off the plates. This is standard practice."

Sunderland City Council is trying to establish the origin of meat served in its schools to identify the possible source of the disease.

just-food.com published a feature on foot and mouth. To read it, click here.