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 first outbreak in the European Union of peste des petits ruminants (PPR) highly contagious.
Carrying banners that read “We want fair treatment” and “Burning dead animals – a throwback to medieval times”, protesters, who set fire to wool and spilled milk, called for 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 attempted to storm the government building before being pushed back by police.
The Balkan state last month reported the outbreak of the disease, also known as rinderpest or ovine and caprine plague, on farms in the southeastern village of Voden, near the border with Turkey.
Bulgarian authorities said they have already slaughtered more than 4,000 animals in order to prevent the spread of the disease and avoid an EU ban on exports of Bulgarian milk and dairy products.
A quarantine zone was imposed around three villages and blood tests were ordered on small livestock within a radius of 10 km from the outbreak.
The slaughter of animals 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 chief Korneliya Ninova turned to Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor, asking for the suspension of the order authorizing the mass slaughter.
Hundreds of Bulgarians have expressed their outrage on social media, saying the situation could have been resolved through quarantine. It has also been alleged that some of the killings took place before lab test results were known.
The national food security 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 Borisov said ahead of his government meeting on Wednesday.
The disease can have a severe impact on livestock, killing between 30 and 70 percent of infected animals.
Once introduced, the virus can infect up to 90 percent of an animal heard. The virus does not infect humans.
($ 1 = 1.6702 leva)
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Richard Balmforth