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The BBC's Jon Sopel in Brussels
"Europe is becoming a continent of closed borders"
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The BBC's Shireen Wheeler
"Most European countries are against general vaccination"
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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 19:34 GMT
EU approves limited vaccination
Roadblock near infected Dutch farm
The Dutch have banned livestock shipments
Chief European Union veterinary officers have agreed to limited emergency vaccination to fight the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

Overturning a 15-year-old policy, the vets said the Netherlands could inoculate animals around infected farms awaiting slaughter.

These provisions provide for vaccination... if the volume of animals exceeds the available destruction capacity

EU statement
They ruled out the widespread use of vaccines in any part of the EU to combat the disease.

EU Consumer Affairs Spokeswoman Beate Gminder said the decision would not set a precedent.

The Dutch authorities say there are no vaccination plans, but they want to be ready to act if they cannot cope with the large numbers of animals destined for slaughter.

New cases

The Dutch, who confirmed their first cases this week, believe the policy would create a "fire-break" to stop the disease spreading, although most countries are still opposed to the idea.

Cases have now been confirmed in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Ireland. Germany and Italy are also investigating possible outbreaks.

Lorry carrying slaughtered animals
The Dutch slaughter of infected herds is already under way
In the UK, where the number of cases has exceeded 500, a government report has predicted that epidemic will reach 4,000 cases by June, and will continue for many months.

The report, compiled for the Ministry of Agriculture, calls for "further drastic action", to stop foot-and-mouth becoming established in Britain.

Dutch arguments

The EU opposes widespread vaccination, saying it would hit export markets in the longer term as the Union would lose its status as a zone "free of disease".

But the Dutch have said the economic arguments are no longer valid, given the scale of the crisis.

Vaccination drawbacks
Hard to recognise vaccinated animal
Cost of vaccinating 300 million animals
Protection for six to nine months only
Some countries refuse to import vaccinated animals

Up to now, most of the EU countries have backed the European Commission, which believes the disadvantages of vaccination far outweigh the benefits.

As well as the loss of export markets, the cost of vaccinating 300 million animals across the EU would be huge.

The commission also argues that vaccination might actually spread the disease because it would become difficult to tell which animals were sick or vaccinated and where they had come from.

Japan extends ban

The UK and the Netherlands, meanwhile, have asked their European partners to help provide more vets to deal with the disease.

The plea came as European leaders gathered for a summit in Sweden, with the foot-and-mouth crisis and the conflict in Macedonia overshadowing the original agenda.

Cattle cull
The fight to stop the spread of the disease is becoming more desperate
As the crisis deepens, Japan has extended its ban on imports of cloven-hoofed animals and related products to the whole of the European Union.

Previously the ban had applied to the four countries where an outbreak of the disease has been confirmed.

The move is in line with the policies of several other countries, including the US.

Irish case

The first outbreak of foot-and-mouth in the Republic of Ireland was confirmed on Thursday.

Two samples taken from a flock of sheep in County Louth, close to the border with Northern Ireland, tested positive for the disease.

The outbreak has been connected to Northern Ireland's only confirmed case of the disease at Meigh in south Armagh.

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See also:

19 Mar 01 | UK
Head-to-head: Vaccination
22 Mar 01 | Europe
Foot-and-mouth spreads to Ireland
21 Mar 01 | Americas
US tourists shun Britain
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