Irish begin livestock slaughter as first foot-and-mouth cases confirmed
BALLYMASCANLON, Ireland (AP) – Officials slaughtered the first of thousands of doomed livestock Friday, a day after the Republic of Ireland confirmed its first cases of foot-and-mouth disease, which is ravaging neighboring Britain.
Confirmation of the first cases in a rural peninsula on Thursday sent shock waves though the country, and stocks slumped more than 5 percent on the Dublin exchange.
Prime Minister Bertie Ahern called the outbreak ”a national challenge for our country.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair telephoned Ahern late Thursday to express his ”support and solidarity,” Blair’s Downing Street office said.
For three weeks, Ireland’s 3.7 million citizens had restricted their travel and canceled other activities – even their St. Patrick’s Day parades – in hopes of deterring the livestock disease, which is already hurting the country’s vaunted Celtic Tiger economy.
”After all these nervous weeks, we were just starting to believe we’d beat it,” said John Elmore, a cattle farmer about 10 miles from Thursday’s confirmed outbreak on a sheep farm next door to Northern Ireland.
The entire Cooley peninsula, about 50 miles north of Dublin, had been subject to special restrictions and monitoring since foot-and-mouth was confirmed March 1 in a sheep herd near Meigh on the northern side of the border. That triggered fears the microbe would spread to the republic and its $6 billion-a-year livestock industry.
Officials said Thursday they feared the disease had crossed the border with a third group of infected sheep.
Authorities moved quickly to try to restrict the disease to the Cooley area of County Louth. They announced that 3,000 sheep and 1,000 cattle within a half-mile of the infected farm would be slain first, and that about 40,000 livestock on the whole peninsula would be destroyed within the next few days.
At the infected farm, 130 sheep were piled up after being killed Wednesday night. Department of Agriculture workers in white coveralls monitored the scene as construction workers cut a dirt road into the field. Journalists weren’t permitted to leave their cars for fear of spreading the disease.
In Dublin, Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh announced that Ireland would maintain its ban on exporting live cows and sheep and impose a temporary ban on exports of all meat and dairy goods.
Walsh said he hoped the European Union would reward his country’s exceptional efforts to prevent the disease’s spread by confining any ban on Irish meat and dairy products to those from around County Louth.
”We then have the difficulty, of course, in convincing the markets that the produce from Ireland is safe,” he said.
It’s a major problem for Ireland, which exports 90 percent of its farm production. Agriculture accounts for 12.7 percent of the gross domestic product and tourism, which has also been hurt by foot-and-mouth restrictions, accounts for nearly 5 percent.
Don Walshe, economist at Goodbody Stockbrokers, estimated the disease would knock 1.4 points off the firm’s current forecast of 8.1 percent growth in Ireland’s economy this year.
The government ordered more soldiers to enforce sanitary measures at Irish ports and border checkpoints with Northern Ireland. Since March 1, soldiers have been backing up police on many of the more than 100 border roads connecting the two parts of Ireland.
Police established more checkpoints Thursday, including on both sides of Dundalk, the largest town near the Cooley Peninsula. Long lines of traffic waited to drive over mats soaked with disinfectant, and police checked trucks to make sure they carried no livestock.
In the Netherlands, the second country in continental Europe to confirm cases of the disease, farmers appealed for vaccinations to save their herds. People cleared supermarket shelves of milk and meat, anticipating a prolonged ban on food from farm areas as the country struggles to contain the disease in two areas in the east and south. A 72-hour ban on transporting dairy and meat products was immediately declared after the government confirmed the outbreak on Wednesday.
In Britain, where the outbreaks began, a leading epidemiologist warned that the epidemic would not be over for at least five months
Foot-and-mouth will not be eliminated before August, with new outbreaks unlikely to start falling until May, Roy Anderson, a University of London epidemiologist, told the BBC late Wednesday.
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