A modern-day battle of Britain, waged on the farm front

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A modern-day battle of Britain, waged on the farm front

3.37 p.m. ET (2053 GMT) February 22, 2001 By Laura King, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) Brandishing bright-yellow tape to cordon off farms and slaughterhouses that could harbor foot-and-mouth disease, veterinary inspectors set out into the English countryside Thursday, searching for new cases of the highly contagious livestock ailment.

Working frantically to contain Britain's first outbreak of the disease in two decades, agricultural officials said the next week would be crucial. One new case was found Thursday, three days after the sickness surfaced, and authorities briefly quarantined a second slaughterhouse over a suspected case that proved negative.

The struggle to stem the disease which rarely sickens humans, although they can spread it through contact with animals took on almost the feel of a national emergency. The government urged city-dwellers to avoid strolls in the countryside. Rural letter-carriers were told to go only as far as farm gates.

Hunting groups agreed to call off the chase for at least a week. And zoos considered steps to protect susceptible animals like elephants, rhinos and camels.

The story dominated tabloid headlines and TV bulletins. Grainy old news footage was aired, showing smoke rising from huge piles of burning animal corpses during a 1967 epidemic that forced the slaughter of nearly half a million cows, pigs and sheep. A smaller outbreak occurred in 1981.

Although Britain voluntarily suspended exports of live animals, meat and dairy products, the United States, Russia and the European Union also imposed import restrictions.

Germany's agriculture minister, Renate Kuenast, ordered checks on all livestock imported from Britain in the last three weeks, France planned to check farms for animals imported in the last 30 days, and Dutch inspectors checked transit points where animals from Britain had passed.

The foot-and-mouth outbreak is a fresh hardship for British farmers, who are still feeling from last summer's outbreak of swine fever and the mad cow crisis.

Prime Minister Tony Blair called the outbreak "the very last thing'' farmers needed. He said a compensation package would be considered to ease their expected financial hardship.

Don Oldridge said his 6,500 pigs were being tested by veterinary inspectors. Although depressed and worried, "I'm keeping my fingers crossed,'' he said.

The alarm over foot-and-mouth disease was first raised Monday, when 27 infected pigs were found at a slaughterhouse in Essex county, northwest of London. Authorities set up a 10-mile exclusion zone around the slaughterhouse and cordoned off five farms.

A third case of the disease in cattle was confirmed Thursday on one of the quarantined Essex farms.

A second slaughterhouse, southwest of London in Surrey, was quarantined Thursday after a "suspect'' bull was found, officials said. It was reopened later in the day after tests showed the animal destroyed as a precaution did not have the disease.

Containing an outbreak is extremely difficult because the virus is so easily spread. It can be airborne, or tracked from one place to another on boots and clothing, or pass from one animal to another, or be transmitted when livestock consume contaminated milk or meat for example, a pig or a goat eating someone's discarded sandwich.

Farmers were urged to fill troughs with disinfectant at the entrances to their land, make visitors clean their boots carefully and keep their dogs away from livestock.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said the export ban was costing $12 million a week.

"If this gets a grip and we are unable to control it, the figure will be much larger than that,'' he said.

Economic ripples were already spreading. A slaughterhouse in Wales that caters to the export market told its 60 workers to stay home. Livestock traders said prices had fallen by about one-quarter.

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-footed animals, including sheep, goats and cows. It is not usually fatal in itself, but wholesale slaughter in affected areas is considered the only means of stopping its spread.

Transmission to humans is extremely rare, but possible if a person is in close contact with an infected animal, the Food Standards Agency said. Humans cannot catch the disease by eating meat or drinking pasteurized milk.

http://www.foxnews.com/world/0222/i_ap_0222_80.sml

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 22, 2001

Answers

February 24, 2001

Britain begins to slaughter thousands of pigs in foot-and-mouth outbreak

Canadian Press LONDON (AP) - Workers began slaughtering thousands of British livestock Saturday, as the government said its measures to contain an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease appeared to be paying off. Pigs, sheep and cattle were being killed on six farms where the disease has been confirmed and at two others that had "dangerous contact" with the infected sites, Chief Veterinary Officer Jim Scudamore said. The carcasses would be burned to keep the risk of transmission to a minimum.

Officials said it was a positive sign that no new cases of the highly infectious disease had been confirmed since Friday.

"We know that events can develop very quickly and that this is the crucial time," said Agriculture Minister Nick Brown.

"Because of the incubation period of this type of foot-and-mouth disease, we would expect to be receiving further reports from farmers now if it had spread, and so far there are no other reports."

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-footed animals, including sheep, goats and cows. Causing blisters on the mouth and feet, fever and loss of appetite, it is not usually fatal but is highly infectious, capable of being carried on the wind. Transmission to humans is rare.

Britain suspended all exports of live animals, meat and dairy products on Wednesday. The United States, Russia and the European Union also have imposed import restrictions.

On Friday, British agriculture authorities slapped a seven-day ban on livestock movements, closed cattle markets and barred hunting for a week in a bid to halt the spread of the disease.

The National Farmers' Union said the ban would cost farmers $74 million in animal sales.

The government appealed for veterinarians from across the country to help contain the outbreak, believed to have originated at a farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, northeast England. The farm delivered pigs to a slaughterhouse where the disease was first detected.

Britain's first foot-and-mouth outbreak in 20 years has affected millions of people across the country. Horse races have been cancelled and zoos closed, while supermarkets warned that their stocks of lamb, beef and pork will only last a few days.

http://www.newsdirectory.com/go/?r=na&u=www.nationalpost.com

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 24, 2001.


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