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More animals may be killed as outbreak in U.K. widens

LONDON — As scientists warned that the worst of the foot-and-mouth outbreak is yet to come, Britain considered two highly unpopular options Friday — expanding a massive slaughtering plan and vaccinating animals against the disease.

In further grim news, French agricultural officials reported Friday a new case of foot-and-mouth east of Paris — the second French farm to be struck. The first was in the northwest village of La Baroche-Gondouin.

In Britain, the nation's chief scientist said the epidemic was "not under control." Desperate officials promised to speed the pace of killing and said they might begin culling all animals within two miles of every infection site in the country.

Chief government scientist David King warned that if officials fail to halt its spread, as many as half of Britain's 63 million livestock may have to be sacrificed to stop it.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said he was giving serious thought to vaccinating animals against the disease, as Dutch authorities gained European Union permission to do. Britain has sought to avoid vaccination because it would keep other nations' doors shut to livestock exports.

The new culling strategy was proposed as scientists warned the number of infection sites could hit 4,000 by June. A Ministry of Agriculture report warned the number of infection sites — which passed the 500 mark — could rise by 70 per day over the next two weeks, or nearly 1,000.

"It will grow fast in the next few weeks and continue for many months," said the report, written by foot-and-mouth experts. "The number of cases will rise steeply with rapid expansion in the existing areas in spite of current controls."

The Ministry of Agriculture said the widened slaughter "is an option that (officials) have, but it's not something that they are embarking upon at the moment. It's something that they are considering."

Earlier, King, the chief government scientist, said the plan had already been approved.

If the wider slaughter is implemented, all livestock within two miles of infected farms everywhere in Britain will be put down, King said. The widened culling was initially planned only for the worst-hit areas in northern England and southern Scotland.

"The operational team has been asked by the prime minister to produce the reduction of the (culling) time to 24 hours and then introduce a firewall cull," King told reporters. "The situation is not under control at the moment."

Many farmers have complained the already authorized slaughter of infected animals is moving too slowly, allowing the disease to continue spreading.

"The government's policy of containment and eradication through the intensified slaughter is the right one," Prime Minister Tony Blair said at an EU summit in Stockholm. "What we've got to do now, frankly, is to deliver it, make sure that it's actually happening."

Meanwhile, Ireland sent additional troops to County Louth, where the republic's first case of foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed on Thursday. It hopes to prevent the disease from moving beyond the county, which is on the border with Northern Ireland, where a case was confirmed earlier this month.

The EU said it will hold urgent talks with Japanese authorities, who have announced a suspension of all pork imports from the EU, which provides 40 percent of Japan's pork.

In Germany, where there have been scares but no confirmed cases, the railroad company Deutsche Bahn said it would stop transporting livestock.

Authorities in Argentina identified 55 cases of the disease and said they would intensify a vaccination program.

In France, the news of the second case of the disease prompted officials to immediately announced strict nationwide prevention measures. Meat, milk and other products that have not undergone a heat treatment to deactivate the virus will be barred from export starting Saturday, French farm officials said.

With more than 480,000 animals already slaughtered or condemned in Britain, this year's epidemic is now officially worse than the 1967 outbreak, previously the most dire in recent years, said Jim Scudamore, the government's chief veterinarian.

Brown said the disease has already cost Britain about $243 million, and the toll in lost livestock and meat trade could reach $815 million, said Robin Bell, head of the agriculture ministry's trade team.