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Row grows over Swiss handling of foot-and-mouth disease

Swiss farmers are worried that scenes from Britain have put consumers off buying meat Keystone Archive

A row is brewing between the Federal Veterinary Office and the Swiss Farmers Association over measures to prevent the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Switzerland.

This content was published on April 5, 2001 - 16:35

Despite growing fears among farmers that the disease may infiltrate Swiss borders, the government has refused to launch a mass vaccination programme for livestock.

"It's just not practical to vaccinate en masse," said Christian Gorot, head of animal diseases at the Federal Veterinary Office. "We would need to vaccinate at least 3.6 million animals and this is not realistic."

Although the Swiss Farmers Association has not yet called for a nationwide vaccination programme, it insists that the moment a case is reported, the government must launch an emergency plan of action.

"If any cases of foot-and-mouth disease are discovered in Switzerland, our union will put strong pressure on the government to begin a mass vaccination programme," Mark Zemp, of the Swiss Farmers Association, told swissinfo.

A less drastic way of preventing the disease from entering Switzerland, said Zemp, would be to enforce a nationwide ban on the land import of meat and dairy products.

"The problem is that many Swiss go to France and Germany to buy cheaper meat and dairy products and then bring them back, and our government should forbid that."

The images of burning animal carcasses in the United Kingdom have left the farming community anxious about the future. "We've seen the terrible pictures from the UK on television and are afraid this disease will come to Switzerland," said Zemp.

Consumer confidence in beef has collapsed in recent months, causing a slump in the retail price of meat.

"The UK has given agriculture a very bad image and we feel that the consumption of beef is going down and down in Switzerland," said Zemp. "Nobody can look at these pictures of burning animal carcasses and then eat beef as if nothing has happened."

Both the government and Swiss farmers agree that the European Union needs to take action in response to the current crisis.

"The EU has to rethink the concept of free animal trade among member states," said Griot.

"It's crazy to have 50,000 live sheep coming from the UK into France and probably going further into Europe towards Greece. I strongly believe this is the main cause of the situation we are in now."

swissinfo with agencies

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