Malaysia lifts Australia cattle ban

PHOTO: Malaysia lifts Australia cattle ban

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has lifted a ban on imports of live cattle and other livestock from Australia imposed amid a virus scare, but will maintain a ban on horse imports, a top veterinary official said Thursday.

"Since yesterday, we have opened up the import of cattle, sheep and goats," Ibrahim Che Embong, deputy director-general of Malaysia's veterinary services department, told AFP.

"But the import ban on horses stays."

The bans were imposed July 8 following the outbreak of Hendra, a bat-borne virus that can be fatal in humans.

Fourteen horses have reportedly died or been put down in Australia since June as a result of the outbreak.

No humans have yet been reported infected in the current outbreak, which has affected farms in New South Wales and Queensland.

But the virus has killed four of the seven people who have contracted it since it was first identified in Australia in 1994.

Malaysia regularly imports Australian horses for racing and is a key market for Australia's livestock industry.

Ibrahim said the lifting of the ban on cattle and other livestock was undertaken to prevent shortages during the upcoming Eid ul-Fitr festival at the end of this month.

Malaysia's majority Muslim population celebrates the festival annually with large banquets at which copious amounts of meat are served. He added that those imports would be subject to "strict conditions" but declined to provide details.

Concerns over Hendra spiked after Australian authorities said last month the virus was found in a dog for the first time, prompting fears it had jumped species.

It had previously only been found in horses, humans, and flying foxes, they said.