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Wednesday February 28 7:59 AM ET

German Farms Under Quarantine

By TONY CZUCZKA, Associated Press Writer

BERLIN (AP) - In the strongest sign yet that Britain's foot-and-mouth outbreak could spread to the European continent, two German farms were under quarantine Wednesday after officials said sheep there were exposed to the disease.

Germany's growing panic focused on three sheep imported from Britain that tested positive for antibodies to the highly contagious livestock disease this week after being slaughtered as a precaution. Officials in North Rhine-Westphalia state said the findings indicated the sheep had been in contact with the disease and further tests would determine whether they had actually caught the foot-and-mouth virus.

``Then, that would really be the disaster scenario,'' state environment minister Baerbel Hoehn said on ZDF television late Tuesday.

Authorities immediately sealed off two farms in the western German state - one in Aachen, the other in Neuss - with a 2-mile exclusion zone. A total of 350 sheep from the farms were destroyed in recent days because they had come from a British farm hit by foot-and-mouth disease. Some 1,200 other sheep on the two farms were also being destroyed.

For German farmers, the new scare came on top of the country's outbreak of mad cow disease that began last November. Gerd Sonnleitner, head of the nation's main farmers' association, said his group had warned members to keep outsiders away from their livestock and carefully observe their animals for signs of foot-and-mouth disease, according to Focus-Money magazine.

In the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein, authorities said Wednesday they have sealed off a farm with 31 pigs imported from Britain six weeks ago until the results of blood tests on the animals come back. Other German states are asking veterinarians to step up spot checks for foot-and-mouth disease and prepared emergency vaccination plans.

German airports have already placed food entering from Britain - anything containing meat or dairy products - under suspicion as possible carrier of foot-and-mouth disease. Customs officers were confiscating uneaten sandwiches from passengers arriving from Britain and distributing leaflets explaining precautions against spreading the disease.

In France, the government said Tuesday it would destroy 20,000 sheep imported from Britain since the beginning of the month as well as all sheep of unknown origin that entered France through intra-Europe trade.

With no end in sight to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Britain, public life on the island increasingly ground to a standstill. The government on Wednesday confirmed four new cases of the disease, bringing the number of affected farms and slaughterhouses to 22.

Authorities closed public footpaths, canceled horse races and called off various sports events, adding to precautions aiming to minimize the possibility of humans carrying the virus.

Britain extended a ban on livestock movements for two more weeks Tuesday, and the European Union lengthened its ban on British exports of live animals, meat and dairy products.

The Daily Telegraph summed up developments Wednesday with a somber headline: ``The day they closed the countryside.''

-- Swissrose (, March 01, 2001

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