The European Commission has imposed a ban on imports of animal and dairy products from Britain following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease there. This afternoon the Government banned such imports from the North and the rest of the UK. The Government warned that there would be "enormous consequences" if the disease spread to this country. Junior Agriculture Minister, Noel Davern, said that it was vital that there was full commitment by everybody to ensure that foot and mouth is kept out of Ireland. The European Commission will review its ban at a meeting of EU veterinary experts on Tuesday.
In a bid to confine the outbreak in southern England the authorities have widened the restriction zone around Brentwood in Essex from five miles to 10. A spokesman said that the cases identified in Brentwood are still the only confirmed cases and it has not been felt necessary to widen any other zones. Animals cannot be moved within the zone or into and out of the zone.
Memories of the last foot and mouth epidemic in Britain are still very much alive in Ireland. It was more than 30 years ago, in 1967. Severe restrictions were placed on travel and trade between the two countries. Internal movement was also curtailed here and people had to disinfect their footwear on entering public buildings. But Ireland has been free of foot and mouth since 1941.
However, it was confirmed last night that foot and mouth has infected pigs at an abattoir near Brentwood in England and that cattle on a neighbouring farm also had the disease. Foot and mouth is highly infectious and it affects goats and sheep as well as cattle and pigs. Symptoms include lameness and mouth blisters. It rarely kills but animals cease gaining weight; and production in dairy cattle falls.
Humans are only rarely infects by handling diseased animals, and infection is only temporary and mild. People do not become infected from eating contaminated animals. This afternoon the Minister of State Noel Davern told the Dáil that the disease has serious implications for agricultural production. His department has placed an immediate ban on the importation from the UK of live animals; and animal products including fresh meat, meat products; milk and milk products.
Department staff at ports and airports have been put on alert and the Garda authorities have also been asked to support the enforcement of the ban. People visiting the UK have been asked not to go onto farms and they should not bring home meat or dairy products with them. Meanwhile, supermarkets here are assessing how the ban will effect them. Some of them stock large quantities of prepared meals as well as meat, cheese and yoghurt.
The North has also banned imports from the rest of the UK. However, the authorities here are exploring the possibility of re-opening cross-border trade when the disease status of the North has been fully established. Reports are being examined that a truckload of pigs from the North was supplied last week to the abattoir in Brentwood at the centre of the controversy, and that the lorry returned with a consignment of sheep.