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Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 18:20 GMT
EU bans British meat
Cheale Meats abattoir in Essex
An exclusion zone is in place around the Essex abattoir
The European Commission has banned all British milk, meat and livestock exports following the UK's first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease for 20 years.

The ban - which will run until 1 March - follows the discovery of a foot-and-mouth outbreak at an abattoir near Brentwood, Essex, on Wednesday.

In a statement, the commission said the disease situation required "reinforcing the control measures" already taken by Britain.

If we can get on top of this and get back to a disease-free status quickly then hopefully the damage can be minimised.

Nick Brown, Minister for Agriculture
Its ban affects exports of live animals, meat and meat products, milk and milk products and other animal products from Britain.

The commission said the decision would apply immediately and would be reviewed on 27 February.

A routine inspection at Cheale Meats abattoir diagnosed the virus in 28 pigs, and the National Farmer's Union later said that a second suspected case had been discovered in Gloucestershire.

Britain is also placing a total ban on the export of all livestock, meat and milk from the UK, and controls on the movement of livestock in a five-mile area surrounding the abattoir have been enforced.

This is the latest blow to Britain's beleaguered farmers following last year's outbreak of swine fever, which led to the slaughter of 12,000 pigs and a temporary ban on the export of live pigs and pig semen.

Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown said: "If we can get on top of this and get back to a disease-free status quickly then hopefully the damage can be minimised.

Pigs on Farringford Farm, Isle of Wight
Exclusion zone: Farringford Farm, Isle of Wight

"But if it goes on for some time the damage could be substantial." The United States, Ireland, South Korea and the Netherlands have also banned pig imports from Britain. Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said: "British farmers cannot survive another round of dithering from MAFF like that which took place in the autumn over classical swine fever. "The government should have acted sooner to prevent the risk of this disease entering Britain through substandard meat imports."

Trail of disease

Chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore said all 300 animals at Cheale Meats, in Little Warley, near Brentwood, would be slaughtered immediately.

Five-mile animal movement exclusion zones have been placed around the Essex abattoir and the site in Gloucestershire, which is thought to be somewhere between Woodchester and Nailsworth.

The infected pigs had arrived at Cheale Meats last week from two farms at Great Horwood in Buckinghamshire and Farringford Farm, in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight.

MAFF said five-mile exclusions were also placed around these farms early on Tuesday, but so far there had been no signs of an outbreak.

The director of the abattoir, Paul Cheale, said they were "co-operating fully" with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) to establish the source of the outbreak.


Everyone in the industry has been left shattered by this

Paul Cheale, abattoir owner

He added that Britain's livestock industry had been devastated following confirmation that farmers were facing the possibility of a foot-and-mouth epidemic.

He said: "Everyone in the industry has been left shattered by this.

"We are now trying to source where every animal which arrived here in recent weeks came from."

The Essex cases were confirmed by Mr Scudamore, after an inspecting vet working for the State Veterinary Service visited the abattoir on Monday and alerted officials.

The ministry is now working with local authorities to contact farmers within the exclusion limits who were being warned to look out for animals either lame or off their feed.

Highly infectious

Foot-and-mouth is a highly infectious viral disease which can affect cattle, pigs, sheep and goats characterised by the development of blisters in the mouth causing increased salivation and lameness.

Death is not usual but animals cease gaining weight and production in dairy cattle falls.

The last major outbreak in Britain was in 1967, while the most recent outbreak in the EU took place in Greece last year.


Five-mile animal movement exclusion zones have been placed around the Essex abattoir.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Thomsett
"All the livestock at the Essex abattoir have been slaughtered"
The BBC's Andrew Burroughs
"In 1967, 430.000 animals were slaughtered"
Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown
"The restrictions in place are absolutely necessary"
The BBC's Bethan Rhys Roberts
"The state veterinary service is trying to find the source of the disease "
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