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BBC Wales's Nia Thomas
"Exports of Welsh lambs have increased dramatically in the wake of the collapse of the beef sales abroad"
 real 56k

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"So the investigation to find the source goes on"
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The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"The worst case scenario is if this disease is already spreading"
 real 56k

The BBC's Craig Swan
"It is a particularly virulent disease- it spreads extremely quickly"
 real 28k

Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 10:47 GMT
Farmers urged to check for disease
Old England Farm, West Horndon, Essex
Government officials inspect a suspect farm
Farmers in Wales are being urged to be vigilant about the signs of foot and mouth disease in the wake of Britain's first foot-and-mouth scare in 20 years.

As union leaders met government government ministers on Thursday to discuss the cases identified, the Welsh Assembly's deputy minister for agriculture, Delyth Evans, warned farmers to be on the lookout for changes in livestock.

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales's Good Morning Wales programme, she said :"We are urging farmers across Wales to be vigilant and to check their own meat and animals to make sure there is no evidence of the disease having reached Wales.

Cheale Meats, Essex
Abattoir workers spray their boots clean
"The next two or three days are going to be crucial because what we must hope is that we are not going to find any further incidences of the disease".

Meanwhile the assembly is being called on to meet as soon as possible to discuss the outbreak.

Plaid Cymru Euro MP Eurig Wyn - a member of the European Parliament's agriculture committee - says the Assembly has been slow to respond to events in England.

He wants to know from the Assembly's agriculture committee what measures would be in place in Wales to deal with any incidents here.

Across the UK, the farming industry is holding its breath as checks are made to determine the source of the outbreak.

map of outbreaks
An export ban has been imposed on all meat and livestock and a quarantine zone has been set up around an abattoir in Essex at the centre of the outbreak.

A race against time has begun to trace the source of the outbreak - the first in the UK since the 1980s.

The European Commission has banned all exports of British livestock, meat and dairy products, and a ten-mile exclusion zone has been placed around the Essex abattoir where the highly infectious disease was first detected.

Five farms in the UK have been ringed by five-mile animal movement exclusion areas, in an effort to restrict the disease to the abattoir.

Quarantine

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has said the government is taking "tough action" to tackle the outbreak quickly and is prepared to compensate farmers for any animals destroyed.

He Brown said the government was doing everything possible to stamp out the disease, including quarantine and inspecting every farm that sent animals to the affected abattoir.

"If necessary, the government will purchase the animals from the farmer, pay 100% compensation and destroy them," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the government is doing enough.

pigs
Infected farms will have to slaughter livestock
Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo said: "I have already talked to farmers who are on the brink of despair because they can see an uncertain future continuing and they don't know for how long and no clear explanation of what the government is prepared to do to keep those businesses in existence."

More than 300 pigs and 60 cattle had been killed at the Cheale Meats site and an adjacent farm owned by the same family.

Four other farms are under quarantine restrictions, including two which sent the infected animals to the abattoir, in Great Horwood, Buckinghamshire and Freshwater Bay, on the Isle of Wight.

Restrictions are also in place on a Yorkshire farm, as one of the infected pigs was delivered from a market in Selby.

Similar outbreaks

A farm near Stroud, Gloucestershire, is also quarantined following another suspected outbreak.

The disease has been identified as "type O" strain, with tests suggesting it is similar to that which caused outbreaks in Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Russia.

Officials said none of the infected animals had been imported into Britain.

But that does not rule out the origins of the infection from illegal foreign meat.

'No threat'

The United States, Ireland, and South Korea have banned pig imports from Britain.

The Food Standards Agency said the disease posed no threat to food safety and that the export ban was aimed at stamping it out.

A spokesman said transmission to humans is possible with close physical contact with an infected animal but "extremely rare".

"But the disease cannot be caught by humans eating meat or drinking pasteurised milk."

Infectious

This is the latest blow to Britain's 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.

Foot-and-mouth is a highly infectious viral disease which can affect cattle, pigs, sheep and goats.

It causes blisters in the mouth, leading to increased salivation and lameness.

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

Britain's last major outbreak was in 1967, although some cases emerged in the 1980s.

The most recent outbreak in the EU took place in Greece last year.

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