The US banned meat imports from the EU on Tuesday after France reported that an outbreak of the financially ruinous foot-and-mouth disease had spread from Britain to mainland Europe.
The news was a fresh blow to the EU, which had already asked non-EU members to lift some restrictions that had been placed on EU agricultural products, arguing they were not justified in view of its own measures to limit the spread of the highly contagious disease.
After France confirmed the presence of foot-and-mouth in the northwesterly Mayenne department, the EU veterinary committee banned exports of cloven-hoofed livestock -- cattle, sheep and pigs -- from France for two weeks.
But the US Department of Agriculture, followed swiftly by Canada, went further, banning the import of all animals and animal products from the EU. It said it would quarantine and inspect all EU meat imported since Feb. 21.
The US move is likely to affect over US$500 million in trade, mostly of goods from Italy, the Netherlands and Britain.
A spokeswoman for EU health commissioner David Byrne said the EU executive, the European Commission, would be seeking urgent clarification.
The EU's top vets had earlier said tough measures were being taken "which are suitable to prevent any spread of the disease to third countries."
They "invited" non-EU countries to lift some of their bans on EU farm and other products as "excessive and not supported by any technical arguments" -- notably bans on EU grain.
Britain has already slaughtered or planned to slaughter some 170,000 animals in an effort to contain its three-week-old outbreak of the disease, which is not harmful to humans but can ravage farming by causing severe weight loss in livestock.
The French case was found in a herd of 144 cattle near the village of La Baroche-Gondouin in Mayenne, at a farm next to another holding that had imported British sheep in February.
The new case, the first in France since 1981, stoked fears that Europe's latest food scare would have a knock-on effect on the economy, with farming and tourism at risk of crippling losses and higher meat prices fuelling inflation.
It also showed the disease had eluded a host of protective measures that France had already put in place, having ordered the destruction of 20,000 sheep imported from Britain in February and 30,000 French sheep that had contact with them.
The entire herd of cattle in La Baroche-Gondouin was slaughtered and due to be incinerated.
Norway, not in the EU, banned imports of all French farm products while EU members Portugal and Spain closed their borders to French livestock.
Germany warned tourists returning from France to leave food behind to avoid spreading the virus.
France is the EU's primary farm producer. Farm Minister Jean Glavany said the virus might already have spread because the sheep imported from Britain had gone to 20 separate areas.