Europe's farmers are bracing for a potential epizootic of foot-and-mouth disease as an alarming number of infections continue cropping up in the United Kingdom. Although restrictions have been placed on animal movement and potentially contaminated exports, there are fears the highly infectious disease may have already crossed the English Channel. France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium have suffered through a series of false alarms, but at press time, no cases of foot-and-mouth disease had been confirmed there.
So far, foot-and-mouth outbreaks were reported at 79 farms in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. More than 80,000 cows, sheep, and pigs have been destroyed since the outbreak was first reported Feb 19 at a slaughterhouse near London, and the toll is certain to climb. This is the first foot-and-mouth outbreak in the United Kingdom since 1967, when an estimated 450,000 animals were slaughtered.
The government and farmers are working frantically to keep the disease under control, but more counties are affected now than were more than 20 years ago. As part of a wave of aggressive control measures, zoos are closed and horse racing and hunting have been suspended. Britain has halted its exports of meat, milk, and livestock, while other countries, including the United States, have placed their own bans on certain British imports. The USDA has dispatched personnel to assist with control efforts.