EU Relaxes Ban on British Meat Exports

The European Union on Thursday relaxed a ban on exports of British livestock, meat and dairy products that was imposed after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in southeastern England earlier this month.

The ban will remain in effect in a special zone around the infected farms in the county of Surrey, but products from elsewhere in Britain can be exported under strict conditions as of Saturday, the EU executive said.

"This is a very good outcome for the U.K. There was a unanimous decision," deputy chief U.K. veterinarian Fred Landeg said after a meeting of EU veterinary experts.

He said he hoped the results of a probe into the source of the infection would be published "in the next few days."

"This is a contained outbreak. We believe ... the risk of finding any further disease is very low," Landeg said.

Outbreak Curbed

The disease, first confirmed August 3, struck two cattle farms 30 miles southwest of London and sparked worries of a repeat of a major 2001 outbreak, when 7 million animals were slaughtered and British meat was shut out of world markets for months.

The highly infectious disease affects cloven-hoofed animals, including cows, sheep, pigs and goats. Around 600 animals have been slaughtered as a result of the latest outbreak.

The European Commission said veterinary experts from the 27 EU member states expressed support for the control measures taken by British authorities to contain the disease. They said the "strict and immediate" provisions helped curb the outbreak.

All of Britain had been classified as a "high-risk" zone for livestock and product exports at the request of British authorities. Farmers have said the trade ban was costing them close to $4 million a day in lost income. Exports from Northern Ireland had not been affected.

"We do not yet know the full economic effect of the outbreak, but we know it was confined to just a few hundred animals, so the cost was relatively small. But of course there has been effect on our export trade," Landeg said.

The veterinary committee is slated to meet again next month to review the situation.