SOFIA (Reuters) – Hundreds of farmers from across Bulgaria rallied in the capital Sofia on Wednesday against the government-ordered mass slaughter of cattle following the European Union’s first outbreak of the highly contagious plague. small ruminants (PPR).
Carrying banners that read ‘We want fair treatment’ and ‘Burning dead animals – a throwback to medieval times’, protesters, who set wool on fire and spilled milk, called on the government to increase state aid to affected farmers.
They demanded the resignation of the agriculture minister and senior ministry officials as some of the protesters tried to storm the government building only to be pushed back by police.
The Balkan state last month reported an outbreak of the disease, also known as sheep rinderpest or sheep and goat plague, in farms in the southeast village of Voden, near the border with Turkey.
Bulgarian authorities said they had already culled more than 4,000 animals to prevent the spread of the disease and avoid a European Union ban on exports of Bulgarian milk and dairy products.
A quarantine zone was imposed around three villages and blood checks were ordered on small livestock within a radius of 10 km around the outbreak.
The animal slaughter was halted in the village of Sharkovo on Sunday after protesters, backed by several political parties, including the largest opposition party, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), barricaded the area.
BSP leader Korneliya Ninova turned to Bulgaria’s Attorney General, asking for the order authorizing the mass slaughter to be suspended.
Hundreds of Bulgarians expressed their outrage on social media, saying the situation could have been resolved through quarantine. It has also been alleged that some of the murders took place before the lab test results were known.
The national food safety agency defended the mass slaughter of animals, saying it was the “only possible measure” in the situation.
The agency said the most likely cause of the disease in Bulgaria and the EU was the illegal transport of an infected animal from Turkey.
“If we don’t stop the animal infection now, the damage will cost hundreds of millions (levs),” Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said ahead of his cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
The disease can have serious repercussions on livestock, killing between 30 and 70% of infected animals.
Once introduced, the virus can infect up to 90% of a hearing animal. The virus does not infect humans.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Richard Balmforth