Dutch farm disease policy under fire

Saturday, 21 April, 2001, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_1288000/1288827.stm

Slaughtered Dutch cattleThousands of Dutch animals have been slaughtered

Thousands of people have gathered in the Dutch capital, The Hague, for a protest rally against the mass slaughter of farm animals to combat the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

The protesters complain that the policy, which involves killing thousands of healthy sheep, pigs and cows to stop the spread of the disease is immoral, wasteful and unfair to farmers.

They want the authorities to switch to vaccinating animals.

At the moment, the European Union is only allowing vaccination as a temporary measure, because a comprehensive change of policy would hit exports to Japan and the United States, which insist that all meat is free of the foot-and-mouth virus.

The demonstration - organised by a new group, Citizens Support Farmers - is opposed by the main Dutch farmers' organisation, which while agreeing with its aims, fears the rally could spread foot-and-mouth.

Farmers in the affected areas have staged a series of angry protests, including hanging the carcasses of slaughtered pigs and cows from trees.

At least 16 people have also been arrested trying to stop the slaughter.

Wider outbreak feared

The foot-and-mouth outbreak in the Netherlands has been a fraction of that in the UK, with 25 cases compared with Britain's 1411.

Cows strung up in Kootwijkerbroek

Cows strung up in Kootwijkerbroek

But so far, about 100,000 Dutch animals have been slaughtered and another 115,000 cows, sheep, goats and pigs in the east of the country have been vaccinated in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.

Most of the cases registered in the Netherlands have been in the eastern province of Gelderland.

However an outbreak in Friesland - 140km away - last week has raised fears that there are numerous farms where the disease has not been detected.

Belgium has been tightening controls along its border with the Netherlands, while Germany has applied to vaccinate a million cloven-hoofed animals within 25km of the country.