05/23/2005, 00.00
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Thousands of cattle slaughtered in foot-and-mouth outbreak, but government denies everything

In Yanqing district, at least 2,000 cattle have been culled. Police block roads to the area and farms are under quarantine, but government officials have 'no reports" of the disease.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Foot-and-mouth outbreak is spreading in Beijing's rural hinterland. Police have cordoned off roads to the main affected area as residents claim that at least 2,000 cattle have been culled.

A resident of Qianlizhuang, a local village, said: "There is foot-and-mouth disease [Asia 1 type] here. Two thousand cows have been buried already in two villages alone."

"The disease is spreading quickly and so many cows have died. The entire area has been sealed off for two weeks already and nobody from outside can get inside," he added.

A resident of the neighbouring village of Houluzhuang explained that "[w]e are not allowed to talk about it."

However, an official with the mainland's Office of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine, a department under the Ministry of Agriculture, flatly denied there were any undisclosed cases of foot-and-mouth disease.

"Apart from the two cases in Shandong and Jiangsu announced by the state, we have not received any other reports," he said. "We have not received any report of [the disease] in Beijing so far," he said.

In fact, China did report two outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

On May 13, the central government reported two small outbreaks in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong, which led to the slaughter of 183 and 40 cattle respectively, to the OIE.

However, evidence of an outbreak could be seen as early as March 9, when 16 cattle at Hong Kong's Sheung Shui slaughterhouse were found to have Asia 1 type foot-and-mouth disease.

The cattle were imported from the mainland and the discovery of the disease prompted the slaughter of 7,147 pigs, 560 cattle and 120 goats that were at the abattoir.

Yanqing district lies just outside Beijing and is a major dairy production area. Its capital Jiuxian is home to most of the district's dairy cooperatives which are now under quarantine.

The authorities had always hailed the area as an "example of productivity" with its milk supplied to some of the major brands including Sanyuan, Mengniu and Yili, which are sold throughout China and in Hong Kong.

A Mengniu spokeswoman said she was not aware of the outbreak, but added that milk supply was not affected as most of the company's milk came from Inner Mongolia.

Speculation among non governmental experts is rife that the outbreak may have spread to as many as 15 provinces and also affected Beijing's Xianghe and Sanhe areas.

Foot-and-Mouth is a highly contagious disease that strikes animals like cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. Its symptoms include fever and blisters on the feet and udders. In young animals it can cause sudden death.

It is a viral disease with seven known serotypes: O, A, C; SAT (southern African territory) 1, 2, and 3; and Asia 1, the most contagious type.

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