Another three cases of foot and mouth disease (FMD) have been confirmed at farms in the UK, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the UK to ten.
These new cases, the first involving sheep, were found at an abattoir in Bromham in Wiltshire and at a farm in Hatherleigh in Devon. A further case at a farm in Northumberland has also been discovered.
Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Fisheries (Maff) officials said these incidents are likely to be related to an outbreak at Burdon Farm, at Highampton in Devon, which was confirmed on Sunday.
Government observers confirmed that there is a link between the case at Burdon Farm and the outbreak at Burnside Farm in Northumberland. The owner is said to have travelled to markets in the north of England on Monday last week and may have bought sheep from the Burnside farm.
Chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore said it looked as if infected animals moved from Northumberland to Devon between February 13 and 16. The Government will have to trace the movement of thousands of animals out of Hexham and Carlisle markets to find the source, he said
Symptoms of the disease have also been found at an abattoir in Anglesey, north Wales. National Farmers Union officials have said the next 24-hours will be critical. If more cases are discovered in the next few days it may indicate that the UK is on the brink of a countrywide epidemic.
UK Agriculture Minister Nick Brown is to make an emergency statement to the UK parliament before joining his EU colleagues to discuss measures to combat the spread of the disease.
There are fears that FMD may have spread to mainland Europe after the farmer at Burdon Farm confirmed that he has in the past exported sheep into Europe. France is monitoring some 47,000 sheep imported from Britain over the past month for signs of the disease. Some newly imported British animals have already been slaughtered in the Netherlands, and Germany has imposed quarantines on several farms after confirming the presence of UK livestock.
EU vets meet on Tuesday to review the international ban on exports of British animals and animal products as a result of the outbreak, although it is likely that the ban will be extended.
Meanwhile a huge fire at Burnside Farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland, pinpointed as the source of the outbreak, marked the mass burning of carcasses of cows, sheep and pigs from the farm. Large-scale culling and burning of the remains is the only recognised way to combat the virus.