Suspected smugglers cause foot and mouth fear in Northern Ireland

Wednesday, February 28, 2001
A suspected smuggling operation has left the livestock industry in Northern Ireland in foot and mouth panic.

Stormont Agriculture Minister Brid Rodgers told a news conference that sheep slaughtered at a Co Armagh farm showed signs of the disease.

And she revealed that another sheep from a farm in Castlederg have also shown symptoms.

"I have to tell you that it is now my belief that we are looking at an outbreak of this disease in Northern Ireland," she said.

Mrs Rodgers announced a series of measures including a ban on the movement of farm animals other than for slaughter, a ban on the holding of livestock auctions and on the movement of horses.

She confirmed that the RUC has been brought in to investigate the suspected smuggling. A senior official said he would not go as far as saying this was a major smuggling operation "at this stage".

Farmers are bracing themselves for new economic crisis amid the heightening fears that foot-and-mouth disease could have spread to Northern Ireland.

Officials on both sides of the Irish border have been put on emergency alert after sheep were destroyed on a South Armagh farm which had to be sealed off.

The Department of Agriculture confirmed a consignment of 291 sheep, certified for slaughter, were transported to the province from a market in Carlisle, but instead of going to an abattoir ended up on land at Meigh which straddles Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Twenty-one animals from the consignment were incinerated, but the rest are believed to have been moved by another dealer, raising a potential disaster for the Irish livestock industry which has so far been free of the disease.

A Co Down importer and a South Armagh farmer have been interviewed by department officials.

As blood samples were sent to England for analysis, an 8km exclusion zone has been set up around the farm at Meigh. It will take up to four days until the final results are known.