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LONDON (AP) _ Britain sent a shipment of beef to the Netherlands on Wednesday, its first beef export since an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease early in 2001.

Food and Farming Minister Lord Whitty said the step was vital to reviving the cattle industry.

``I am delighted that we have started to export British beef again,'' Whitty said. ``Our high-quality beef is in demand, and British beef is amongst the safest in the world.''

The beef was shipped from Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales, under a plan that allows exports of fresh beef and beef products from British cattle born after Aug. 1, 1996.

The European Union gradually phased out a total ban on British meat and livestock exports imposed after the outbreak began.

There were more than 2,000 cases of the disease across Britain and over 4 million animals were slaughtered to stop its spread. No new cases have been reported for a year.

Foot-and-mouth disease is harmless to humans but can cause wasting in cloven-hoofed animals such as cows, sheep and pigs.