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The BBC's Jon Leyne
"Once again, it is the British meat industry that will suffer"
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EU Health and Consumer Affairs official David Byrne
"We always have to be cautious"
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The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"The worst case scenario is if this disease is already spreading"
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The BBC's Craig Swan
"It is a particularly virulent disease- it spreads extremely quickly"
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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 10:31 GMT
Crisis talks over farmers' plight
Old England Farm, West Horndon, Essex
Government officials inspect a suspect farm
Farming leaders are meeting Agriculture Minister Nick Brown to discuss the "desperate situation" created by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

The leader of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), Ben Gill, led his colleagues in to the meeting at the agriculture ministry headquarters for the crisis talks.

It was, he said, an opportunity to ensure stringent measures are put in place to eradicate the infection and put farmers' interests at the top of the agenda.

Everybody must be vigilant and journeys into the countryside where livestock are about should not take place unless necessary

Ben Gill
Earlier, he warned people to stay away from areas of the countryside where livestock are grazing to prevent a potential "disaster".

A race against time has begun to trace the source of the first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease to hit Britain in 20 years.

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

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

All farmers with livestock are being urged to check their animals for signs of the virus, following the discovery of 27 infected pigs at Cheale Meats near Brentwood in Essex on Wednesday.

Click here to see exclusion zone areas.

Other measures adopted by the government include quarantine and inspecting every farm that sent animals to the affected abattoir.

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

Cheale Meats, Essex
Abattoir workers even have to spray their boots clean

But not everyone is convinced the government is doing enough.

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."

Animals destroyed

The government has said that 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.

Infected farms will have to slaughter livestock
Restrictions are also in place on a Yorkshire farm, as one of the infected pigs was delivered from a market in Selby, and a farm near Stroud, Gloucestershire, following another "suspected" outbreak.

Although foot-and-mouth can be passed through the air, the animals could have caught the disease from a transporter delivering to the Essex abattoir.

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.

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

Food 'safe'

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."

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

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