Used clothing imports hit by foot-and-mouth

  • 2001-04-12
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - The Baltic states are strengthening measures to protect their countries from foot-and-mouth disease. On April 3 Latvia banned imports of second-hand clothing and agricultural machinery from countries struck by the disease.

Following Latvia's lead, Lithuania introduced new rules on April 9, requiring that all used clothing imports be accompanied by certificates showing they have been disinfected. Latvia will soon introduce its own certification system, said a senior official at the country's veterinary service.

Viktors Grapmanis, head of the food and veterinary department at Latvia's Ministry of Agriculture, acknowledged that the ban was unusual.

"No one can say infection will spread this way, but it's a possibility," he said. "The clothing and machinery could come from farms."

All three Baltic states import second-hand clothing. Last year Latvia imported 8,570 tons of second-hand shoes and clothing, according to the State Statistical Bureau.

Britain, where the current outbreak began, was the largest source, exporting $1.09 million worth of clothes to Latvia. Of the other countries where foot-and-mouth has been confirmed, used clothing imports from the Netherlands totaled $929,630, from France they were worth $23,137, and from Ireland, $792.

Hendriks Danusavichs, head of the Latvian Trade Association, affirmed that sales of used clothes may now be hit.

"With this scare, people might switch to buying new clothes," he said.

Uldis Zarins, head of Latvia's Large Families' Support Fund, which gives imported used clothes to the poor, said he was not yet worried about the ban.

"Our clothes come from Scandinavia and Germany," he said. The charity has enough clothes piled up in its office to last six months.

Of the three Baltic states Lithuania has responded to foot-and-mouth with the toughest import restrictions. Konstantinas Gedrimas, deputy director of Lithuania's Food and Veterinary Service, said Lithuania has banned imports of all food products, including grain and vegetables, but excluding milk, from Great Britain, France, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Food products derived from cloven-hoofed animals can only be imported to Lithuania from Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden.

Estonia's restrictions are less severe. Ago Partel, general director of Estonia's Veterinary and Food Board, said Estonia has banned products derived from cloven-hoofed animals from the four affected countries, as well as their poultry products and pet food. But imports from other European Union countries are not affected.

Latvia's restrictions appear to be the weakest. Its ban only applies to products derived from cloven-hoofed animals from the four countries.

On April 9 Latvia banned imports of medical and food aid from countries suffering foot-and-mouth. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Welfare could not give precise details but said the quantity of aid Latvia receives is small.

All three countries have established disinfecting facilities at their ports and border crossings, but Latvia is the only one to have established them at its eastern border with Belarus and Russia. Two of these crossing points have been closed completely.

All three Baltic states say they are prepared to tighten border controls, should the need arise.

"If the disease comes closer to Lithuania we will take stricter measures," said Gedrimas.

Precautions are also being taken at the region's zoos and wildlife parks. Riga Zoo's out-of-town farm, which boasts such exotic species as the Latvian blue cow, has been closed.

On April 9 Russia retreated from an earlier ban on imports of a wide range of food products from the EU and Eastern Europe, including the Baltic states. A range of meat products are still banned, but Eastern European countries, as well as Iceland and Norway, can once again import fish, poultry and dairy products.

A meeting of veterinary officials from the Baltic states and countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States has been scheduled for April 10-12 in the Russian city of Vladimir to coordinate foot-and-mouth prevention.