David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, has announced that the EC has pledged €155m (US$140m) to a programme committed to the eradication of animal diseases, with a view to ensuring that 2002 is a "disease free" year for farming.

Byrne added that the funds represent "the continued support of the EU for disease eradication programmes.

"It is also a reflection of our commitment to continue the EU's efforts to improve the health status of the EU's livestock, which is important from the point of view of protecting animal health and which will in turn be to the advantage of human health."

The money will be distributed throughout the EU by 50 localised projects, as the EC intends to ensure that funds are distributed on a regional and proportional basis, according to infection rates.

The main focus of the programme will be on those diseases that have implications for human as well as animal health, such as the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE). A total of €40.45m has been earmarked for testing kits for BSE and scrapie; something experts agree has been highly effective in combating the diseases.

Byrne added: "The introduction of the compulsory BSE test has proven how important they are to detect BSE in cattle, and to keep infected animals out of the food and feed chain." During 2002, experts expect to test over seven million animals for BSE throughout the EU.

Other diseases such as bovine brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis are virulent and damaging to humans, and in recognition of this danger, the EC has put aside €19.3m specifically for these two diseases.

A further €40.45m will be used to combat 13 separate diseases currently affecting livestock in the EU, and € 250,000 has been provided to tackle common viral diseases in pigs, such as classical swine fever.