Cyprus culls animals to curb spreading of FMD

LARNACA (Reuters) – Cyprus culled more animals and the EU imposed a ban on meat exports yesterday to curb an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) threatening to cripple the island’s farming industry. The outbreak, confirmed by EU experts on Monday, is the first on the island in more than 40 years. Although the farming sector represents just 2.8 percent of Cyprus’s economy, the island is generally self-sufficient in its meat and dairy needs. «This is a very serious situation, and we are going through very difficult hours,» Agriculture Minister Photis Photiou told Reuters. Three-hundred goats and sheep at two farms were put down in a pre-emptive cull on Monday. The cull extended to another 200 animals yesterday, but was likely to gather pace in coming days, including 2,000 today. «Cyprus has been declared a high-risk zone, therefore all exports of livestock and products from these animals cannot be exported into the EU,» a spokesman for EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou told a news conference in Brussels. The ban would not apply to Halloumi, Cyprus’s prized cheese export, since it is heat-treated. Authorities banned slaughter at abattoirs and the movement of animals, but it was unclear how extensive the problem was. ‘One or two years’ Underscoring tensions the cull has caused, two farmers barricaded themselves in with their animals in the western Paphos district, refusing access to vets. Many farmers initially denied there was an FMD outbreak and had blocked authorities’ initial attempts at a pre-emptive cull on Sunday. Initial estimates of compensation total up to 20 million Cyprus pounds ($48.7 million), but economists said it would be difficult to give a precise assessment until the extent of the problem was clearer. «If the problem affects all of Cyprus it might take us up to one or two years to get out of the EU quarantine,» economist Costas Apostolides said. Foot-and-mouth has not surfaced in Cyprus since 1963. The disease is usually harmless to humans, but extremely dangerous to cloven-hoofed animals which develop sores, foam at the mouth and have difficulty standing up. There is already a 3-kilometer quarantine zone around the seven farms affected, and a 10-kilometer surveillance zone. «If the quarantine is extended all animal husbandry in the area will be ruined,» said Yiannos Athanasiou, financial director of a Co-Operative Bank in the town of Aradippou, within the surveillance zone. Authorities were drawing up an emergency package for farmers, who said it would do little to compensate for a lifetime’s work. «I’m 58 and unemployed. What am I going to do now ?» said Demetris Dirris, one of the affected farmers. «I have been caring for those animals since I was 4 years old.»