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Outbreak sparks UK meat shortage fears

Car wash at abattoir
Strict measures are being adopted to stop the spread of foot and mouth disease  

LONDON, England -- British shoppers are being urged not to panic-buy meat after measures to combat foot-and-mouth disease prompted fears of shortages.

A seven-day ban on moving cattle, pigs, sheep and goats came into force on Friday amid growing evidence that the highly-infectious virus was spreading through the British countryside.

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The strict measures, including culling hundreds of animals, have been adopted amid fears that the outbreak could cripple the UK farming industry, just recovering from the long-running battle against mad cow disease.

Britain voluntarily suspended exports of live animals, meat and dairy products on Wednesday, and the United States, Russia and the European Union have also imposed import restrictions.

Hungary and Romania announced a similar ban on Friday.

Questions over source

Livestock traders say they support the ban even though it will cause hardship
Livestock traders say they support the ban even though it will cause hardship  

Senior vets are meeting on Saturday to discuss progress in tracking the source of the outbreak, which has now been confirmed at six farms.

The Government has said the first pigs to be infected may have been suffering from foot-and-mouth for more than two weeks and questions are being asked as to why it had taken so long to detect.

But one of the two brothers who farm at the Northumberland site which the Government says may be the source, said they had had a clean bill of health a month ago and kept a careful eye on their animals.

In a statement released through the National Farmers Union, Bobby Waugh said: "I always keep a careful eye on all my pigs because, naturally, I want healthy pigs. It is not in my interest to have unhealthy pigs."

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, said the industry had no choice now but to "baton down the hatches."

He added: "This will be hard but not as hard as if foot-and-mouth spreads throughout the entire British livestock population."

Carcasses
Britain has suspended meat exports  

Livestock traders also said they supported the ban on animal transportation although it would cause "significant difficulties" to their $36 million-a-week (25 million) market.

Industry body the Meat and Livestock Commission said a week-long ban would not result in meat shortages, although it could not guarantee that any extension would not cause problems.

A spokesman did say that some areas may experience shortages of some cuts, such as sirloin steaks, and supermarket chain Safeway was among retailers warning customers to expect depleted stocks.

The highly contagious virus can be carried by the wind, on the soles of shoes or on the wheels of cars, and the British countryside has become a virtual no-go area.

Livestock fairs and markets have been closed, hunting of deer, foxes and hares banned, postal workers ordered to leave mail at farm gates and ramblers warned to stay off fields.

The Ministry of Defence has joined the effort by placing a ban on all non-essential military training.

Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire joined city zoos in announcing it would temporarily shut its doors to the public to protect its rare animals.

Monday's horseracing meeting at Newcastle is among a host of events to be abandoned as the racecourse falls inside the 16 km (10-mile) exclusion zone placed around an affected farm at Ponteland.

Foot-and-mouth disease causes blisters on the mouth and feet, fever and loss of appetite. It is not usually fatal in itself, but animals are slaughtered to stop it spreading.

Transmission to humans is extremely rare, but possible if a person is in close contact with an infected animal, the Food Standards Agency said.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
EU Commission for Foot-and-Mouth disease control
National Farmers' Union
Food Standards Agency

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