Switzerland blocks meat imports from Britain

Switzerland has followed Europe in closing its markets to livestock and meat from Britain

Switzerland has called an immediate halt to imports of meat and live animals from Britain, which is struggling to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease.

This content was published on February 26, 2001 minutes

A spokesman for the Federal Veterinary Office, Heinz Müller, confirmed the ban on Monday.

Müller said his office had also warned veterinary officials to make careful checks on the country of origin of all animals being imported into Switzerland.

In addition, the office made a plea to Swiss tourists in Britain not to visit farms there, and said if they had already done so they should avoid any contact with livestock for a week after their return.

There have been seven reported cases of the disease in England and Wales since last Tuesday. More than 2,000 pigs, sheep and cattle have been culled, with exclusion zones set up around affected farms.

Switzerland's ban comes after the European Union announced it was stopping all meat imports from Britain in a bid to prevent the epidemic spreading to the European mainland. Britain has already imposed a worldwide ban on exports of its own meat products.

"We have closed the borders to live animals and animal products coming from the UK to Switzerland," Christian Griot, head of the Swiss Animal Epidemic Institute, told swissinfo.

"The disease is highly contagious and would be very difficult to get rid of once it was in the country," Griot warned. "It would also have an enormous impact on farmers because Switzerland would have to stop all exports of its meat and animal products."

So far there have been no reported cases of foot-and-mouth disease on the European mainland. Müller said that in view of this he believed the measures already taken by the EU and Switzerland were sufficient.

But he said Switzerland had agreed with the EU to stop the movement of animals across the continent in the event of a case of foot-and-mouth being confirmed.

The virus's incubation time is four weeks.

Müller stressed that the disease posed no threat to humans. He recalled that during the last epidemic in the 1960s, contaminated meat had been consumed by humans.

The often-fatal virus affects pigs, sheep, cattle and goats and causes them to develop blisters on their hooves and in their mouths. It is spread through contact and airborne transmission.

swissinfo with agencies

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