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Britain Livestock Disease Spreads

March 4, 2001

LONDON (AP) _ Foot-and-mouth disease has turned up in a huge national park in southwest England, agriculture officials said Sunday, raising fears that livestock graze there will spread the ailment to wildlife.

Nearly 60 separate outbreaks of the highly contagious livestock disease have been reported in Britain and Northern Ireland, and about 45,000 animals _ sheep, cows and pigs _ have been destroyed in an effort to stop the spread of the ailment.

The outbreak in the Dartmoor National Park was found at a tenant farm inside the sprawling moor in Devon, in southwest England. The National Farmers Union called the spread of the disease to the park _ where about 46,000 cattle and sheep graze _ a ``nightmare scenario.″

Hikers had already been told to stay off the moor.

Since the first cases were discovered Feb. 19 at a slaughterhouse in southern England, authorities have banned exports of British milk, meat and live animals. At outbreak sites, herds are being destroyed, with pyres of carcasses burning around the clock.

The first suspected cases were reported in continental Europe last week, with the discovery of blisters _ one of the telltale symptoms _ on the snouts of three pigs in northern Belgium. Authorities immediately created a buffer zone around the suspect farm and imposed a three-day ban on transport of all farm animals in Belgium.

The livestock ailment, which poses no danger to humans, has already dealt a heavy blow to British farmers, and could do the same to their counterparts elsewhere in Europe if the outbreak spreads.

It is extremely difficult to contain an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which infects cloven-hoofed animals like sheep, cows and pigs. The virus can be carried for miles by the wind, people, clothes or cars, surviving for lengthy periods on boots and clothing. It can also be spread by contaminated hay, water and manure.

The outbreak has triggered cancellations of scores of sporting events and other large gatherings. Hundreds of parks, zoos, nature preserves and countryside trails in Britain have been closed.

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