Virus sparks call to shut borders
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- A move will be made on Tuesday to ban the movement of livestock susceptible to foot-and-mouth disease across European borders.
Italian Agriculture Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio will urge European ministers at a standing veterinary committee to accept the closure of all national borders to imports and exports of livestock at threat.
The move comes as European countries step up efforts to keep the virus at bay despite scares among its livestock.
Foot-and mouth disease, which does not harm humans, causes blisters on the hooves and mouths of sheep, pigs, cattle and goats undermining their economic value.
France has already banned exports, and after discovering traces of the disease in slaughtered imported British sheep on the weekend it suspended the transport of all cloven-hoofed animals -- except to slaughterhouses -- for the next two weeks.
French Farm Minister Jean Glavany said the disease "could be a new tragedy for French farmers."
Nine of the country's farms are under quarantine and the preventive slaughter of 50,000 sheep has been ordered, including five sheep in Gard, southern France, which are suspected of having had the disease.
But the two cattle that had come into contact with slaughtered British sheep have tested negative, the farm ministry has said.
French President Jacques Chirac added: "We're very worried about the situation and determined to do everything possible to tackle the problem."
Continent free -- so far
Other tests on livestock in Belgium and Denmark proved negative on Monday -- making the continent free so far from any confirmed cases.
But the Belgian Government imposed a three-day ban on all transport of farm animals, banned weekend horse races throughout the country and ordered the destruction of all animals in transit.
German officials in the state of Brandenburg said they had sealed off a pig farm after noting suspicious symptoms in one of the animals.
In the UK, where 71 cases have been confirmed and 45,000 animals have been culled, the National Farmers' Union spoke of a possible "nightmare scenario."
One of the latest cases includes a tenant farm in the southwest of England leased by the Prince of Wales.
British supermarkets reported soaring meat sales, with shoppers stockpiling supplies.
In an effort to avert shortages, the government announced measures that will allow farm animals from areas of the country not infected by foot-and-mouth to be taken directly to slaughterhouses under stringent conditions.
Bulgaria announced on Monday it had banned all imports of cloven-hoofed animals, related products and fodder from France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland as a precaution.
But Sweden, which currently chairs the presidency of the EU, dismissed the need to raise the foot-and-mouth crisis at an EU summit in late March.
Swedish Prime Minister President Goran Persson said, following a meeting with Chirac in Paris, that the outbreak was primarily an issue for farm ministers and that Sweden did not plan to put the farming industry's latest plight on the agenda at the March 23 EU summit in Stockholm.
"It's not politically correct in a sense to raise the issue of foot-and-mouth because it's up to the Agriculture Council (EU farm ministers) to address the question," he said.
"If we start the farm debate now, it will only hold up enlargement, or overshadow the enlargement question."
Asian states moved on Monday to restrict the imports of European meat.
Japan announced it had imposed a temporary ban on imports of cloven-hoofed animals and related products from Belgium, France and Denmark.
While in South Korea, officials added possibly suspect meat from France, Germany and Denmark to a quarantine list already set up against imports of cloven-hoofed animal products from Belgium.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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