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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 12:57 GMT
Foot-and-mouth pandemic feared

The world faces a foot-and-mouth disease pandemic, the head of animal welfare at the Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned.

The "O" strain of the disease could be spread by tourists and refugees, who thereby constitute "a real danger", FAO officer Yves Cheneau told the BBC.

From the United States and Europe to Australia, Thailand and South Korea, officials are banning the import of British livestock and animal products.

Many of the bans go beyond the voluntary export restrictions the UK has imposed on live animals, meat and dairy products since the disease was identified in England on Monday.

Foot-and-mouth disease, which can be fatal to animals, spreads easily through contact and airborne transmission.

Global transmission

Mr Cheneau said the present outbreak could have originated in South Asia a decade ago.

The foot-and-mouth virus - Image created by Oxford University
The virus spreads easily
"It started in 1991 in South Asia and, after that, it spread westwards through the Arabian peninsula, Turkey and it reached Europe for the first time in 1996", Mr Cheneau said.

It also spread north to Mongolia, Japan, and South Korea, he said.

"The virus is extremely dangerous in that it can spread, not only with animals, but also with animal products, and this is a big problem", he warned.

Europe responds

European countries have taken a range of precautions against the spread of the disease.

The Republic of Ireland, which shares a 386km (240 mile) land border with the UK province of Northern Ireland, has tightened border checks to prevent the disease from spreading from the UK.

About 500 army personnel have been added to 300 police officers examining imports in order to keep foot-and-mouth disease out of the country.

Germany is rounding up and inspecting all animals imported from Britain in February, while Belgium and the Netherlands are closing livestock markets.

Belgium has warned citizens travelling to Britain not to bring back meat or dairy products.

Import bans

Further afield, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Canada and the US have banned a range of livestock and animal products from the UK.

South Korea, which had its own outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among cattle in March and April of last year, set up a task force and intensified quarantine measures in response to the British outbreak.

Foot-and-mouth disease can affect pigs, cattle, sheep and goats.

In rare cases it can cause skin reactions in humans, but it is not generally considered dangerous to people.

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See also:

23 Feb 01 | Scotland
Foot-and-mouth tests at Scots farm
23 Feb 01 | Wales
Export hope for Welsh farmers
23 Feb 01 | Europe
French alert over foot-and-mouth
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