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Europe to Lift British Livestock and Meat Ban Within Days

Vigilance and early containment of foot and mouth disease in Britain have paid off as European vets agree to lift the export ban on British meat and livestock. For VOA, Tom Rivers in London has details.

The outbreak of foot and mouth disease on August 3 sent a shudder through Britain's agricultural community.

Back in 2001, the highly contagious disease decimated the British industry and recovery then was costly and slow.

Mindful of the mistakes of the past, the response this time was rapid.

The disease was confined to two farms in Surrey County, south of London and British government scientists say the chances of further cases showing up now are "very slim."

Meeting in Brussels Thursday, veterinary experts from all 27 European Union states have agreed that the current ban on British exports can be lifted, effective August 25.

Britain's deputy chief veterinary officer, Fred Landeg says it's a victory for speedy containment.

"From the moment the decision comes into effect, Great Britain, other than the existing protection-surveillance zone, we will be able to export health-marked, in the community meat, meat products and we will also be able to export live animals under strict veterinary rules," he said.

That exclusion area is a ten-kilometer zone around the two farms where the disease broke out. Meanwhile, an investigation into the source of the outbreak, thought to be from a nearby site containing an animal testing lab and pharmaceutical firm, continues.

While the ban is lifted on Saturday, Landeg says a few more days will be required for livestock to be shipped to the European continent.

"With respect to live animals, this was a better decision than we had hoped," he added. "There will be some administrative measures to put in place in terms of certification before animals can be exported under these strict rules there has to be a three-day notice period."

If no more cases of foot-and-mouth show up, the EU is expected to give all of Britain, including the current surveillance zone in Surrey county, the export all clear by mid-September.

Britain exports more than $2 million worth of meat and animal products around the world every week.