From: Reuters
Published March 10, 2008 02:20 PM

Italy farmers urge tighter controls on French cattle

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian farmers urged the government on Monday to step up measures to protect the domestic cattle market from the spread of bluetongue after Italy has banned import of non-vaccinated cattle from France.

Italy's health ministry has banned from March 4 imports of live non-vaccinated cattle from France earmarked for rearing in Italy as well as transit of non-vaccinated animals through Italy's territory if it involved stops.

But Italy's biggest farmers association Coldiretti said in a statement that imports of French non-vaccinated cattle intended to be butchered in Italy should also be blocked.

"It would be a crime not to do everything to protect our domestic market," Coldiretti's veterinary expert Giorgio Apostoli told Reuters. Italy had managed to stop the spread of the virus from its southern regions a few years ago, he said.

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Bluetongue, the virus that ravaged northern Europe's cattle and sheep in 2007, does not affect humans and there is no risk of contracting it by consuming milk or meat from infected animals.

Bluetongue, which is transmitted by midges, is characterized by inflammation of the mucous membranes, congestion, swelling and hemorrhages. Sheep, rather than cattle, are often the worst affected animals.

Apostoli said Italy imports about 1.3-1.4 million calves each year to be reared on Italian farms, with about a million calves coming from France, and a ban on non-vaccinated cattle import may create considerable problems for Italian farmers.

Italy's own output of about 1 million calves a year is not enough to meet domestic consumption needs, he said.

On top of calves, Italy imported about 120,000 adult cows for slaughter last year, he said.

"We hope France starts vaccination soon, so that we have only a couple of month of import delays," Apostoli said.

France has said it would start vaccination in April and all cattle, goats and sheep should be treated against serotype 8 -- the strain of bluetongue that occurred in northern Europe -- by the end of the year.

French farmers decried Italy's move, saying it would cause "unbearable" harm to breeders who would have to keep their animals on farm and face additional losses.

"This sudden about-face amounts de facto to blocking French exports to Italy," France's largest farm union FNSEA said in a statement.

(Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova in Milan and Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris)

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