By Andrew Bushe DUBLIN – As hopes for a quick end to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) faded in the UK and a case was confirmed on Tuesday just 60 miles across the Irish Sea in Wales, crisis measures to seal off Ireland have been intensified. The Irish Farmers Association has called off all animal meetings countrywide, and horse and greyhound races have been cancelled, as the UK outbreak appeared to be becoming an epidemic. British officials scrambling to trace the spread of disease have now confirmed 16 cases scattered across the country and over 100 more are being checked out. Thousands of animals are being destroyed in funeral pyres as wholesale slaughter is used to try and contain it. Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh ordered a tightening of checks in Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ports saying he viewed with “particular concern” the case confirmed in a lamb in Anglesea in North Wales. It is believed to have been purchased last Friday in Yorkshire on the other side of Britain. A huge volume of ferry traffic — up to 500 trucks a day — and thousands of passengers move back and forth with Ireland though the nearby port of Holyhead. As the situation worsened in Britain, farmers have been asked to restrict access to their land to one entrance/exit point and to ensure a blanket of disinfected straw is placed there. The Minister warned that the consequences of an outbreak would be “horrendous” for the country. The _5 billion farm and food export industries – already reeling from a consumer backlash resulting from health scare problems like madcow/BSE, killer e-coli strains, salmonella and brucellosis – would be devastated if the highly contagious disease took hold in the country. The last FMD case in Ireland was in 1941. The country escaped in 1967 and 1981 when there were outbreaks in the UK. Half a million animals were destroyed in the UK in 1967. If the crisis deepens, the “Irish” racing Festival at Cheltenham in Britain on 13 March and even the Grand National at Aintree near Liverpool could be called off. The holding of the Ireland-Wales rugby match in the Welsh capital Cardiff is also hanging in the balance. If they are not cancelled, the Government may appeal to people to stay away. Peter McCarthy, Chairman of the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners, said the ban on the movement of animals should be extended to horses as keeping the disease out must be the number one priority. He said it was a very busy time in the stud season. “But isn’t it better to have a total ban for a week or so to curtail this disease than face seven or eight months total ban on all stud and racing activity.” The first wave of protective measures included a ban on the importation from Britain and Northern Ireland of cattle, sheep, pigs and goats and of meat, meat products, milk and milk products. Although it is no threat to humans, FMD is one of the most contagious of animal diseases. Infection spread can be airborne but it is usually transmitted by the movement of animals, people and vehicles. The incubation period is two to 14 days The Minister, who is working closely with his Northern Ireland counterpart the SDLP’s Brid Rodgers, said an outbreak in Ireland would have the potential to cause “enormous economic damage”. “We must remember that we only consume approximately 10 percent of what is produced. The enormity of the problem, if it occurred, should not be underestimated by anybody. “If people or their families are going to the UK or elsewhere, I ask them to be extremely careful because this is a virulent organism that spreads extremely quickly,” the Minister said. IFA president, Tom Parlon, said it was essential there was extreme vigilance. “It’s all stations alert. If we had one outbreak we would likely lose our high export status and that would be a major national blow to us and to 150,000 jobs.” The last time movement north and south was sealed off so tightly was in 1996 when the so-called “Operation Matador” controlled movements of cattle at the height of the mad cow/BSE disease scare.