The French government has lost its long battle to keep Hoof-and-mouth disease out of France. The first confirmed cases were reported there today.

France has slaughtered tens of thousands of animals that were imported from Britain before the disease was discovered there, trying to keep the disease at bay. The sick herd found today on a farm at Mayenne in northwestern France, is the first anywhere on mainland Europe to have caught the highly contagious disease.

Meanwhile, England is losing tourists as well as gourmets, and farmers are facing ruin. “I know it’s very frustrating because we simply don’t know how foot-and-mouth is going to develop,” said Prime Minister Tony Blair. “I’ll be having a series of meetings, not just with farmers but with the wider rural community to see what help we can give.”

The number of infected sites in Britain now number 183, with an estimated 160,000 animals slaughtered or due to be killed. Disposal of the carcasses has become a serious problem, despite pyres burning day and night. Farmers in some areas complained that bodies were rotting in huge piles, creating further risks.

The London Times reported that British police were taking shotguns from farmers, for fear of a wave of suicides.

When the European Union was first proposed, a universal monetary system and open borders were expected to be the main sources of contention between the formerly independent countries. Who would have expected that the biggest problem would turn out to be food? Countries want to protect the small farmers, who produce a higher quality of produce and some countries are afraid of genetically modified food.

Then Britain caused a scandal by feeding ground up animal parts to cattle, causing an epidemic of Mad Cow Disease that has spread to humans. Now Hoof-and-mouth disease, which does not affect people but is quickly fatal to livestock, is sweeping the UK and threatening Europe.

Because of stringent importation restrictions, the United States has been free of Hoof-and-Mouth since 1929. However, some British tractor parts now under quarantine here are believed to possibly harbor the disease. Nevertheless, it is not anticipated that Hoof-and-Mouth will reappear here, as restructions on the movement of livestock and produce now in place are believed to be sufficient to keep it out.

Travel has increased greatly in recent years, however, and it is possible that the disease will be carried in on the shoes of tourists arriving from infected areas.

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