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Japan decided Friday to ban all imports of pork and mutton, in addition to their processed products, from countries within the European Union, following reports that foot-and-mouth disease is spreading in the area, farm ministry officials said. The import ban will be effective beginning today.

Tokyo had earlier banned pork imports from Britain, France, the Netherlands and Ireland due to outbreaks of the disease in those countries, the officials from the the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said.

Foot-and-mouth is a highly contagious viral disease that causes blisters and fever in hoofed animals. The disease is believed to pose no threat to the health of human beings, but can be economically devastating for farmers.

In January, Japan banned imports of beef and beef products from the EU following reports of an outbreak of mad cow disease in EU countries.

The eating of meat from cattle affected with mad cow disease is suspected of causing variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal disease that attacks the brain tissue of humans.

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