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The BBC's Peter Morgan
"At airports passengers from Britain are being searched"
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Jan Mulder, European Agriculture Committee
"We have to take precautionary slaughtering of suspected animals"
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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 12:33 GMT
Germans fear farm 'catastrophe'
Road block at Neuss farm
An exclusion zone has been thrown around the farm
A state environment minister in Gemany has warned of an impending catastophe, after signs that some sheep imported from the United Kingdom have come into contact with the foot-and-mouth virus.

Checks at a farm near Dusseldorf found foot-and-mouth antibodies in the blood of five sheep.

This is our alarm signal - we cannot rule out the outbreak of the disease on the continent

Baerbel Hoehn, environment minister
The antibodies mean the sheep had come into contact with the disease, but officials said there was no indication that the sheep had themselves contracted foot-and-mouth.

The animals were among 1,500 sheep imported from UK which the German authorities are slaughtering as a precaution against the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

"This is our alarm signal," said Baerbel Hoehn, the environment minister in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia where the farm in question is located.

"This is our first suspicion that German animals perhaps had contact with infected animals. We cannot rule out the outbreak of the disease on the continent."

Empty shelves at Marks and Spencer in Paris
Bare shelves: No UK meat or milk on sale at Marks and Spencer in Paris
The authorities have now sealed off an area measuring three square kilometres around the affected farm near the town of Neuss.

France had earlier announced plans to destroy 20,000 sheep imported from the UK in an attempt to reduce the risk of foot-and-mouth spreading across the Channel.

And in Belgium, the agriculture minister has ordered the destruction of about 1,000 sheep imported from Britain since 1 February.

The decisions came after EU vets decided to extend a ban on British livestock exports until 9 March. The UK Government says a ban of its own will remain in force until it is sure the outbreak of the disease has ended.

Mutton demand

Europe takes action
Netherlands - 4,300 animals killed at farms with UK links, livestock markets closed for a week
Belgium - 1,000 sheep to be destroyed. Nine livestock markets banned for a week.
France - Plan to destroy 20,000 sheep imported from Britain since the start of the month
Germany - Some animals slaughtered, tests ordered on all UK animals
French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany said France had decided to kill all sheep imported since 1 February from sites in the UK affected by the disease.

Half of the sheep have already been slaughtered for commercial purposes, but the meat will be taken out of circulation, Mr Glavany said.

Demand for mutton is currently high in France because the country's large Muslim community is preparing to celebrate the religious holiday of Eid Al-Adha on 5 March.

French experts say it is quite possible for the disease to cross the channel, either borne by the wind, or by seagulls.

Airborne transmission

British sheep at a Paris agriculture fair last week
British sheep in France: 20,000 face slaughter
Germany, where experts also say there is a high risk of the disease appearing, has imported 3,530 sheep from the UK since 20 February.

Authorities in the Neuss district of North Rhine-Westphalia said 1,500 sheep would be slaughtered in addition to 350 which were killed on Monday because they had come from an affected farm in the UK.

German officials said they had been monitoring arrivals at airports to check they were not bringing milk or meat into the country, "down to the last slice of salami".

Both in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, farmers have been asked to adopt a "fortress farm" mentality.

An Irish Agriculture Department spokesman said the closure of cattle markets along the border with Northern Ireland had been extended.

The number of animals slaughtered or due for slaughter in the UK is now about 7,000.

There are as yet no recorded cases of foot-and-mouth in mainland Europe.

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See also:

26 Feb 01 | Europe
Foot-and-mouth fear grips Europe
27 Feb 01 | UK
Countryside faces closure
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