Foot-and-Mouth Disease Hits Ireland

Thursday, March 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) — The first cases of foot-and-mouth disease have been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said Thursday.

Two cases were confirmed in County Louth, about 50 miles north of Dublin, Ahern told the Irish Parliament. One case of foot-and-mouth disease previously had been confirmed across the border in Northern Ireland.

``All we can hope now is to confine it to the immediate area,'' said Tom Parlon, president of the Irish Farmers Association.

Although not dangerous to humans, foot-and-mouth is deadly for livestock and highly contagious, capable of being spread even by the wind.

The discovery in Ireland comes a day after confirmation of cases in the Netherlands, quashing hopes that the livestock disease could be bottled up in a small corner of France, the only other place in continental Europe where it has been identified since it erupted in Britain a month ago.

Britain's foot-and-mouth count climbed to 435 cases by early Thursday. Roy Anderson, a University of London scientist who studied the pattern of the disease for the government, said foot-and-mouth would not be eliminated before August.

Anderson told the British Broadcasting Corp on Wednesday that the epidemic was more severe than the last major foot-and-mouth crisis in 1967, which saw 2,000 individual outbreaks and almost half a million animals slaughtered.

The government vowed Wednesday to speed up the process of destroying slaughtered animals — 275,000 of whom have been killed so far — and denied accusations it had covered up the outbreak.

Dutch veterinarians, meanwhile, planned to vaccinate herds of cattle against the disease, a strategy so far avoided by European Union members because of fears it would strip them of their disease-free status in world markets. Inoculated animals bear the same foot-and-mouth antibodies as infected animals.

The Netherlands imposed a three-day ban on the movement of livestock, fodder, and dairy products after the cases were confirmed Wednesday in three farms near the German border Wednesday. About 18,000 animals were marked for destruction. Other suspected cases were being investigated in the southern province of Brabant.

Animal carcasses were being hauled away from the farms for rendering rather than being burned in fields. But faced with the overwhelming task of disposing of the carcasses, the Agriculture Ministry said some animals in 1,000-yard rings around the contaminated farms will be vaccinated rather than killed.

Newspapers said inoculations had begun, using emergency supplies that have been in storage for years. The ministry had no immediate confirmation.

The European Union in Brussels quickly imposed a ban on livestock exports from the Netherlands and on some exports of meat, dairy and animal products.

That could be a severe blow for the Netherlands, a country with 16 million people and 120 million barnyard animals and one of the world's most intensive farming sectors.

In Britain, hundreds of parks, pathways and attractions were closed in the wake of the disease, devastating the rural economy. Opposition politicians also urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to postpone local council elections in England.

But Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted rural Britain was open for business and said elections would be held as planned in May. Full-page ads sponsored by the government urged Britons to return to the pubs, hotels and stately homes in safe areas of the countryside.