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EU bans British meat, milk exports

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February 22, 2001 


LONDON (AP) An outbreak of highly infectious foot-and-mouth disease in British pigs prompted a government ban Wednesday on exports of meat, milk and livestock and threatened serious damage to the country's beleaguered farming industry.

The European Union quickly announced its own ban on British exports to other member countries until March 1. The United States also suspended its imports of British pork.

The disease, which is not regarded as a threat to humans, affects cloven-footed animals, including sheep, goats and cows. It is not usually fatal to the animal but can cause weight loss and reduced dairy production in cattle. It is airborne and can spread quickly.

``This outbreak has potentially catastrophic implications for the whole of the British livestock industry,'' said Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union. Last summer's outbreaks of swine fever, and the long-running mad cow crisis have badly hurt farmers in Britain.

The government Food Standards Agency said Wednesday that transmission of foot-and-mouth disease to humans is extremely rare, but may be possible if they are in close contact with an infected animal. It said the disease cannot be caught by humans eating meat or drinking pasteurized milk.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said the outbreak was ``potentially a very serious situation.''

``These measures are not an issue of human health but are designed to prevent the spread of the virus in livestock,'' he said. ``The government will not allow anything which is dangerous to be fed to people.''

The EU said it would review its ban at a meeting of the Standing Veterinary Committee on Feb. 27.

The United States, which halted its imports of British pork and pork products, bought just 4,000 tons in 1999 and ``substantially less'' in 2000, said an Agriculture Department spokesman.

The last foot-and-mouth outbreak in Britain occurred in 1981. An outbreak in 1967 led to the slaughter of more than 400,000 animals.

The disease was discovered Monday in 27 pigs at a slaughterhouse in Essex county, northeast of London. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said it had spread to a farm near the slaughterhouse.

Veterinary officials were trying to determine the source of the infection, a process that could take several weeks. The ministry said it had imposed five-mile exclusion zones around the slaughterhouse and two farms that delivered pigs to the slaughterhouse on Friday.

Officials were investigating reports of an outbreak on another farm.

The carcasses of more than 1,000 pigs slaughtered since Monday would be destroyed, slaughterhouse director Paul Cheale said.

Noel Davern, Ireland's junior agriculture minister, said Irish police would patrol the border with Northern Ireland to enforce the ban on meat and livestock from the United Kingdom.

Finland's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on Wednesday advised Finns to refrain from visiting British farms. For ``unavoidable'' farm visits, the ministry told Finns to wear protective clothing and afterward ``wash very carefully in the sauna.''

The National Farmers' Union said that after the swine fever last year, this was another crisis for its members. The swine fever led to an EU-wide ban on pig exports for more than a month.

``No one can underestimate what a serious threat this is to British agriculture,'' said legislator Colin Breed, agriculture spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrat party. ``This hammer-blow must not be allowed to impede the modest recovery made by the farming sector in recent months.''

Mad cow disease Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy which is believed to cause the fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, reached epidemic proportions in Britain after it was diagnosed in 1986 and resulted in wholesale herd slaughtering, mandatory testing and an EU ban on British beef exports that has since been lifted.

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