European Union veterinary experts agreed on Thursday to let all of Britain, except part of the county of Surrey, resume exports of live animals, meat and dairy products to other EU countries, the EU executive said.
The vets, representing the EU's 27 member countries, backed a European Commission proposal to limit export restrictions to a surveillance zone in Surrey, 10 km around the area where two outbreaks of foot and mouth disease were confirmed this month.
This means that exports of live animals, meat and dairy products will be able to resume from the territory of Great Britain, apart from the 10 km zone in the county of Surrey, the Commission said. The decision enters into force on August 25.
This reduction in the control measures at this stage has been possible because of the favorable evolution in the disease situation and the strict and immediate movement ban implemented in the whole of Great Britain, it said in a statement.
The EU's amended trade restrictions on British livestock exports will apply until September 15 but be reviewed again at a further EU vets' meeting scheduled for September 11, it added.
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This is a clear demonstration of the confidence which our European colleagues have in the disease control measures that we have taken in this outbreak, Britain's farming and environment minister Hilary Benn said in a statement.
Britain's deputy chief veterinary officer, speaking to reporters after the meeting, said he expected the country to resume exports early next week.
ANOTHER CASE UNLIKELY
The surveillance zone in Surrey, where the highly infectious virus was found on two farms in early August, would probably be lifted on August 30, Fred Landeg said, adding that EU vets could be expected to clear all British exports from September 11 or 12.
The chances of finding another case of foot and mouth in the UK are very slim. But of course we still want people, in particular farmers, to remain vigilant, he said.
A Commission official said that barring any further outbreak, the EU vets should lift the final restrictions at their next meeting.
The EU should give the go ahead for meat and dairy products to be exported from the restriction zone and for live animals to be moved to other parts of the UK. However, the export of live animals to other EU states will still not be allowed for three months from the last outbreak, the official said.
The Surrey outbreaks came as an unwelcome reminder of 2001, when foot and mouth disease devastated British farming and led to the slaughter of more than 6 million animals, many of which were burned on huge bonfires.
Britain's farmers organizations welcomed Thursday's decision with the National Farmers' Union (NFU) describing it as fantastic news.
The decision is a just reward for the sacrifices that farmers have had to make, NFU Scotland President Jim McLaren said in a statement.
We must not forget that the livestock sector was already under immense pressure before this outbreak. We need our European customers to start buying our exports again as soon as possible.
British farmers are not entitled to any direct compensation for any losses incurred, but Landeg said the government -- as in 2001 -- would be applying for emergency funds from Brussels to help ease the financial losses incurred by its farmers.
After the outbreak of foot and mouth in Britain in 2001, the EU gave an emergency aid package to four affected member states. A total of 1.6 billion euros ($2.21 billion) compensation was requested by Britain, France, the Netherlands and Ireland.