UK begins mass animal burial
LONDON, England -- The mass burial of thousands of slaughtered sheep has begun in the UK as the number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the country topped 600.
Contractors, supervised by the army, worked through the night on Sunday to dig a burial trench at a disused airfield in the northern English county of Cumbria -- one of the worst affected regions.
The first lorry load of several hundred carcasses was dumped into the pit on Monday afternoon, as the Ministry of Agriculture revealed the number of sites affected by the disease had risen to 613.
CNN's Diana Muriel, in Cumbria, said five enormous pits, capable of holding some half a million dead animals, are being dug at the former air base in Great Orton.
The trenches will be used to clear the backlog of dead animals awaiting disposal, Muriel said, but live animals will be transported there too to be killed at the site.
The pits are not suitable, however, for the disposal of cattle because of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
"Cattle cannot be buried because of the BSE risk. Sheep can be buried or burned, and we have about 70,000 sheep to pick up, and about 15,000 cattle we will have to dispose of ..." said Brigadier Alex Birtwhistle, who is heading the army operation in Cumbria.
The crisis has closed much of the countryside, crippled the farming community and brought the tourism industry to its knees.
Officials are especially worried at the confirmation of the first foot-and-mouth case in the Lake District -- one of Britain's most popular national parks.
They warned on Monday that picturesque pastures could be reduced to scrub land and flocks of Herdwick sheep -- a symbol of the Lakes -- wiped out for ever.
"We are facing an absolute Doomsday scenario," said park manager Bob Cartwright.
Unlike in other areas, livestock on Lake District farms is generally free to roam on open fells, raising the spectre of foot-and-mouth spreading from animal to animal like wildfire.
If the park's 75,000 Herdwick sheep, and also flocks of Swaledale and Rough Fell sheep, had to be slaughtered, the consequences would be "devastating", said Cartwright.
He predicted that grassland would turn to wild scrubland within ten years without grazing sheep.
Russia has become the latest country to ban imports of meat and dairy products from the European Union, following outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in the Netherlands, France and the Irish Republic.
The ban will be effective for at least 21 days, after which officials will decide whether to extend or abolish it, Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev told the Interfax news agency.
The Dutch government on Sunday announced a fifth confirmed case of the livestock disease.
France has two infected sites and Ireland one.
Ireland, which like Britain has called in the army to help contain the crisis, is also culling thousands of animals.
The Dutch outbreak has been traced to animals that travelled from Ireland through Mayenne, in north-west France, where the first continental case of the disease was found.
"They still have a link to Mayenne. It means that we can still trace back every case to France," ministry spokesman Bruno Bruggink said.
In Paris, the Agriculture Ministry blamed the second French case on "fraudulent practices," saying the animals on a farm in Seine-et-Marne had been in contact with British sheep illegally transported from Mayenne.
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