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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Farming is now a major international business"
 real 56k

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh in Brussels
"Continental Europe is on high alert"
 real 28k

British journal Agra Forum's Roger Waite
"BSE remains the major issue"
 real 28k

Monday, 26 February, 2001, 22:42 GMT
Foot-and-mouth fear grips Europe
Burning carcasses in Essex
The UK slaughter operation may have come too late
Countries across Europe are taking emergency steps, including the wholesale slaughter of animals, to try to halt the march of foot-and-mouth disease.

UK Agriculture Minister Nick Brown flew to Brussels to brief fellow European farm ministers on the extent of the outbreak in Britain and the steps being taken to tackle it.

Mr Brown made it absolutely clear no animals with the virus would be exported from Britain.

We're not going to export our problems to other people

Nick Brown, UK Agriculture Minister
Ministers must decide whether Europe-wide emergency measures should now be implemented.

There are as yet no recorded cases of foot-and-mouth in mainland Europe, but hopes the crisis could be confined to the UK receded on Sunday with the confirmation that a British exporting farm has the disease.

The news sent a shudder of fear across European farms already reeling from the BSE crisis, and gave an added edge to protests, held to coincide with the Brussels meeting, at which farmers demanded compensation for their crisis-hit industry.

European action
Netherlands - 4,300 animals slaughtered, markets banned
Belgium - markets banned
Germany - slaughter starts in North Rhine-Westphalia, other farms quarantined
France - 47,000 animals traced and monitored
Ireland - border checkpoints set up
The head of the European Union's meat trading association, Jean-Luc Meriaux, says any transmission of foot and mouth to mainland Europe would be "an absolute disaster" for the European meat business, far worse even than mad cow disease.

The most dramatic response to the foot-and-mouth threat has come in the Netherlands and Germany, where thousands of newly-imported animals have been slaughtered, along with local farm animals with which they have come into contact.

In the Netherlands alone, 4,300 sheep, cattle, pigs and deer have been slaughtered at farms known to do business with the UK, said officials.

A mechanical digger silhouetted by the flames at Heddon, Northumberland
The carcasses of 800 pigs were burned at the probable source of the oubreak
"The concern is quite high in the Netherlands because it is such a dangerous disease," Dutch Agriculture Ministry spokesman Benno Bruggink told BBC News Online.

"In deer and sheep, the disease is harder to detect. That is why we have not taken any risks, and have gone ahead with the slaughter."

But he warns that some animals have already been re-exported to third countries, mainly France.

Lorries cleansed

Dutch livestock markets - and all nine markets in Belgium - have been banned for a week to minimise the risk of cross-contamination.

Belgium is also insisting on the disinfection of all vehicles arriving from the UK which have been used to transport animals.

Dutch slaughter
2,500 sheep
600 deer
700 cows
500 pigs
Two llamas
At least 18 farms involved
In France, the authorities have tracked down about 47,000 animals imported from the UK in the past 30 days.

Frantic efforts are now expected to try to trace animals from the infected UK farm, in Highampton, Devon, which have been shipped to France in the past few weeks.

In Germany, a slaughter of animals has begun to try to eliminate the risks of the disease surfacing there, a regional government minister revealed on Monday.

"It happened on one farm yesterday and will happen this morning on another one," said Baerbel Hoehn, environment and farm minister for the large western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Other farms are being placed under strict quarantine, and tests have also been ordered on all animals imported from the UK over the last three weeks.

The last outbreak of foot-and-mouth in the European Union was in 1992, when a small number of cases were reported in Greece, but the outbreak did not spread.

One group of British sheep in France has been given the all-clear. The sheep had appeared at France's annual agricultural fair, and were established to be free of the disease after blood tests.

New crisis fears

The tests were part of a full-scale alert in France, which fears the disease could have been carried across the Channel on the wind as well as being brought in by diseased animals or contaminated lorries.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
Nick Brown: Briefed farm ministers
European farmers, as well as their UK counterparts, can ill afford a new crisis.

The BSE crisis, which took hold in mainland Europe in October, has sent demand for beef plunging.

The farm ministers' meeting has been hearing pleas from France to provide compensation for farmers hit by the mad cow crisis.

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See also:

26 Feb 01 | Media reports
'Panic across the Channel'
26 Feb 01 | Europe
Farmers clash with Belgian police
23 Feb 01 | Europe
French alert over foot-and-mouth
24 Feb 01 | Europe
Europe in fear of UK farm virus
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