Brussels bans export of live pigs from England

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The Independent Online

Brussels banned the export of English pigs yesterday after the outbreak of swine fever in East Anglia.

Brussels banned the export of English pigs yesterday after the outbreak of swine fever in East Anglia.

The embargo will prevent the sale of all live pigs from England until the end of the month, and came after moves by Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain to impose their own bans. The measures do not cover exports from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and will expire on 31 August unless a committee of scientific experts calls for an extension. British live pig exports are worth around £12m a year.

European Commission officials will meet with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) tomorrow to discuss the measures being taken to control the first British outbreak of swine fever for 14 years.

A Maff spokesman described the ban as "an understandable precaution", adding: "We took similar action when swine fever broke out in the Netherlands. It was a perfectly reasonable decision and follows our UK vets working closely with the Commission.

"We are glad that the Commission has imposed a consistent EU-wide ban," he said. "This can now be addressed on the basis of the science and avoids the potential confusion of individual member states imposing separate bans and requiring separate scientific evidence before their bans can be lifted. We are working hard to contain and then eradicate this outbreak."

The Tories claimed the ban was a "slap in the face" for Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, and called for immediate compensation for farmers hit by the decision.

Tim Yeo, the Tory Agriculture spokesman, said Mr Brown had refused to apply for EU compensation in the past for the effects of public health regulations on farmers. "Farmers will question exactly why Britain has been treated so harshly in that the EU has issued a nationwide ban when the outbreak is limited to a few counties," he said. "This ban could not come at a worse time for British pig farmers who are already struggling against low prices and cheap sub-standard imports."

The next step will probably be taken by the EU Standing Veterinary Committee, which includes the chief veterinary officer from each member state and which will meet next Tuesday to review the situation.

British officials hope the committee will narrow the ban, perhaps to East Anglia, the region that includes all five farms known to be affected. But if more cases are discovered, the committee could recommend an extension of the embargo. With a 10-day incubation period for the disease, officials believe the situation will be clearer by the time the committee meets, although the European Commission sought to play down expectations that the ban would be lifted or narrowed at the meeting.

The embargo, which includes both live animals and semen, followed pressure from European capitals and Paris in particular, which said it would impose its own ban if the Commission did not. Jean Glavany, the French Agriculture Minister, said he was "very happy" with the Commission's decision. Maff did not oppose the move partly because the ban heads off pressure from Spain, which wanted a further embargo on pork. However, bad publicity surrounding the outbreak is likely to affect overseas demand for British pork.

There is no evidence that swine fever can be transmitted to humans, and the French Agriculture Ministry statement argued that "the safety of the consumer is not threatened".