Europe adopts fortress mentality to fight virus

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03/15/2001 - Updated 01:50 PM ET Europe adopts fortress mentality to fight virus

LONDON (AP) Dramatically escalating its bid to stop the wildfire spread of foot-and-mouth disease, Britain announced plans Thursday to slaughter up to 100,000 animals that may have come in contact with the virus in addition to more than 200,000 sheep, cows and pigs already killed or marked for death.

The drastic move, announced by Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, came as reverberations of the nearly month-old outbreak rippled far beyond British shores.

Continental Europe, shaken by the disease's spread to France this week, worked to strengthen its internal defenses against the virus even as the rest of the world scrambled to shut out European meat and dairy products, including those from countries that have remained disease-free.

Foot-and-mouth disease poses no threat to humans, but when it strikes countries or trade blocs that had previously been certified as free of the ailment it can have disastrous commercial consequences.

If they want to restore their disease-free status crucial for agricultural trade countries can find themselves faced with the necessity of destroying enormous numbers of animals.

If they resort instead to vaccination, which does not always work well, they effectively renounce their claim to a share of the lucrative export market; as long as its herds carry antibodies to the virus, the country cannot be certified as disease-free.

As the outbreak drags on, relations between Britain and the rest of Europe and Europe and the rest of the world were showing signs of strain. Europe is unhappy over U.S. and Canadian bans on European Union livestock, fresh meat and dairy products announced Wednesday.

The European Commission said Thursday it would not immediately take trade action against the United States and Canada, but did not rule out retaliatory steps later.

Within the EU, which has made the breaking down of borders and barriers its raison d'etre, customs posts were being reactivated.

Along the Belgium-French border, Belgium set up checkpoints to stop the entry of French livestock. The German states bordering France agreed Thursday to check all arriving commercial traffic.

Portugal on Thursday urged a European Union-wide ban on livestock movement. The tiny Faeroe Islands, a Danish dependency in the North Atlantic, banned French meat, as did Austria.

In Britain, authorities faced a dilemma: to ease restrictions, or make them even more severe. They decided to do both.

With farmers in unaffected parts of the country clamoring for relief from tight curbs on animal movement, Brown, the agriculture minister, held out hope that restrictions could be relaxed within 10 days.

But at the same time, he announced the most far-reaching slaughter yet, involving animals showing no signs of illness but believed to have had potential contact with the virus. The prime minister's office estimated Wednesday that could be around 100,000.

All livestock within two miles of confirmed outbreaks in the northeastern county of Cumbria will be destroyed, Brown told the House of Commons. Sheep which may have been exposed to the disease at three markets will also be destroyed.

"We are intensifying the slaughter of animals at risk in the areas of the country thankfully still limited where the disease has spread," Brown said. "This is a policy of safety first."

With at least 240 separate outbreaks now reported, farmers have acknowledged the grim necessity of mass slaughter. Even so, the latest measures are a blow.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, said the size of the killing zones would mean many healthy animals would die.

"There will be many tears around the British countryside today," he said. Our farms should be starting to jump to life with newborn lambs and calves. Instead, many will feel that spring has been canceled, and their farms are simply dead."

http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2001-03-15-foot.htm



-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 16, 2001


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