Japan halts beef exports over foot-and-mouth disease

TOKYO, April 20, 2010 (AFP) - Japan on Tuesday suspended its beef and pork exports after detecting suspected cases of foot-and-mouth disease in a cattle herd, in what would be the country's first outbreak in a decade.

Animal health authorities culled a herd of 16 cows on a farm in the southern prefecture of Miyazaki on Kyushu island after three of the animals showed symptoms of the highly contagious disease, officials said.

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals, also including sheep, goats and deer. It is rarely transmitted to humans but spreads easily between animals, causing them pain and often killing young animals.

A farm ministry official said as a result of the suspected cases, which would be the nation's first since 2000, "Japan has suspended exports of any meat products from cattle, pigs and other cloven-hoofed animals."

The southern Miyazaki prefecture said the three cows were found showing symptoms of the disease at a cattle farm in the small town of Tsuno, 850 kilometres (530 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

"Cows suspected of carrying the foot-and-mouth virus have been found in the prefecture," said Miyazaki Governor Hideo Higashikokubaru. "We must contain the impact as much as possible."

Japan, a net food importer, exported just 565 tonnes of beef last year, including 347 tonnes sold to Vietnam, 111 tonnes to Hong Kong and 72 tonnes to the United States, the ministry official said.

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