EU orders closure of all livestock markets for two weeks
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – European Union veterinary experts on Tuesday ordered all livestock markets closed for two weeks in the 15-nation bloc in an effort to contain foot-and-mouth disease.
The EU panel said livestock transport would be allowed between farms and direct to slaughterhouses but all markets and assembly points for cattle, pigs and sheep would be banned.
The panel also extended until March 27 a ban on all exports of meat, livestock and milk products from Britain and said the tires of vehicles arriving from Britain in other EU nations must be disinfected.
The measures will come into force once they are formally adopted by the European Commission, a decision that will come in the next few days, said Gregor Kreuzhuber, agriculture spokesman for the EU head office.
Although no confirmed cases have been found outside Britain, the restrictions reflect widespread fears that the livestock virus could jump the English Channel and spread through herds in mainland Europe.
They were approved despite Britain’s message to the meeting that the outbreak of foot-and-month disease may be close to peaking.
”The information he gave was rather reassuring,” said European Commission spokesman Thorsten Muench of a briefing by Britain’s representative on the panel. ”The (British) authorities expect a peak today, tomorrow or through this week.”
However, several EU nations were pushing for tougher action. Italy had demanded a complete ban on all livestock movement across borders within the EU. The panel of veterinary experts did not go that far and said the measures the EU has taken so far had ”avoided the spread of the disease” outside Britain.
Foot-and-mouth disease was discovered on a farm in southeastern England two weeks ago and quickly spread around Britain, where over 70 farms have been affected. The disease is not dangerous for humans, but is highly contagious among cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, pigs and sheep.
The outbreak has devastated British agriculture just as it began to recover from a crisis caused by mad cow disease and dating to the mid-1990s.
The government has shut down the domestic meat trade and ordered the slaughter of around 80,000 animals.
To head off the threat of shortages, Britain said Tuesday that 201 abattoirs which had been closed have received special licenses to resume work and hundreds of farmers have applied for licenses to sent their cattle for slaughter.
Fears that the British outbreak could grow into a Europe-wide epidemic have begun to subside since the weekend after a number of suspected cases in France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark turned out to be false alarms.
Nevertheless, the risk of infection remains high. Continental nations continued the destruction of thousands animals believed to have had contact with imported British livestock, quarantining suspect farms, restricting animal movement and checking visitors from Britain.
Norway barred British troops from taking part in NATO exercises for fear they could carry the disease on their boots. Anxious Norwegian farmers blocked 300 French soldiers for three hours late Monday until veterinary officials assured them there was no contamination risk.
The disease has also disrupted Europe’s sports events.
The International Amateur Athletic Federation, meeting in Monte Carlo, decided Tuesday to move this month’s World Cross Country Championships from Ireland to Belgium because of Irish fears competitors or spectators could bring in the disease.
International rugby matches and horse racing events have also been canceled.
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Athletes from across the globe will make their way into the National Stadium in Beijing, China, next month for the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.