EU to introduce ban after UK foot and mouth outbreak
By Honor Mahony
The European Union is today to introduce emergency measures to ban livestock imports from the United Kingdom following an outbreak of foot and mouth in southern England over the weekend.
"The European Commission will adopt an emergency measure on Monday that exports of all live animals, meat products and dairy products from the affected area will be banned," a commission spokesperson said, according to Reuters news agency.
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"All live animals from the rest of Britain, but not meat and dairy products, will also be banned for export," the spokesperson continued.
The outbreak occurred at a farm in Surrey. The UK's department of agriculture said that all the cattle on the farm have been culled and that a three kilometre protection zone and ten kilometre monitoring zone have been set up around the zone.
The case is the first outbreak since the last foot and mouth epidemic in 2001 that had devastating consequences for the British farming industry.
During the 2001 outbreak, the government was accused of reacting too slowly, something that allowed the disease to spread.
The emergency measures undertook at the time saw millions of animals culled and burned. The huge burning pyres blighted the countryside and affected tourism.
The outbreak spread to Ireland, France and the Netherlands.
Upon hearing of the weekend's developments prime minister Gordon Brown and environment minister Hilary Benn cut short their holidays.
London has said it will work to get any EU ban lifted as soon as possible. British newspapers are reporting that a biosecurity failure at a research laboratory may have been the source of the outbreak.
The strain identified at the Surrey farm is similar to that used at the Pirbright laboratory situated eight kilometres away – the site houses the government-funded Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and the private pharmaceutical firm Merial Animal Health Limited.
The Pirbright centre is licensed to use the foot and mouth virus and there are fears the virus may have been introduced to the farm after it was carried on the wind.
EU veterinary experts are to meet on Wednesday to asses the situation further. They are set to discuss how long the ban should be kept in place and whether any exemptions will be allowed.
Under EU rules introduced in 2003 - prompted by the last foot and mouth outbreak - the 3km protection zone should be kept in place for a minimum of 15 days and the surveillance zone (10 km) for at least a month.