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Livestock slaughter in Britain accelerated

Dramatically escalating its bid to stop the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, Britain announced plans Thursday to slaughter as many as 100,000 animals that may have come in contact with the virus. That was in addition to more than 200,000 sheep, cows and pigs already killed or marked for death.

The move, announced by Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, came as the effects of the nearly month-old outbreak spread far beyond Britain.

Continental Europe, shaken by the disease's spread to France this week, worked to strengthen its internal defenses against the virus, even as the rest of the world acted to shut out European meat and dairy products even from those countries that are disease-free.

Along the Belgium-French border, Belgium set up checkpoints to stop the entry of French livestock. The German states bordering France agreed Thursday to check all arriving commercial traffic.

Portugal on Thursday urged a European Union-wide ban on livestock movement. The tiny Faeroe Islands, a Danish dependency in the North Atlantic, banned French meat, as did Austria.

In Britain, authorities faced a dilemma: to ease restrictions or make them more severe. They decided to do both.

With farmers in unaffected parts of the country clamoring for relief from tight curbs on animal movement, Brown, the agriculture minister, held out hope that restrictions could be relaxed within 10 days.

But at the same time, he announced the most far-reaching slaughter yet, involving animals showing no signs of illness but believed to have had potential contact with the virus. The prime minister's office estimated Wednesday that could be around 100,000 animals. Britain has a total of 55-million head of livestock.

All sheep and pigs within two miles of confirmed outbreaks in the northwestern county of Cumbria will be destroyed, Brown said. Cattle in those areas will be monitored, with whole herds slaughtered if signs of the infection are found.

Sheep that may have been exposed to the disease at three markets will also be destroyed.

"We are intensifying the slaughter of animals at risk in the areas of the country _ thankfully still limited _ where the disease has spread," Brown said. "This is a policy of safety first."

With more than 250 separate outbreaks reported, farmers have acknowledged the grim necessity of mass slaughter. Even so, the latest measures are a blow.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, said the size of the killing zones would mean many healthy animals would die.

"There will be many tears around the British countryside today," he said. "Our farms should be starting to jump to life with newborn lambs and calves. Instead, many will feel that spring has been canceled, and their farms are simply dead."