PARIS, March 1 (AFP) -- An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain has overshadowed upcoming celebrations in Europe for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, a religious holiday in which believers sacrifice a sheep.

"The situation is very dramatic," said Sheikh Al Sid, assistant to the head of the Paris Mosque.

He was reacting to the French government's announcement this week that 50,000 sheep would be slaughtered or destroyed in France to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease.

Further measures were to be announced later Thursday and there were reports that the French government, following the example of Belgium, was considering imposing an all-out ban on the slaughter of sheep. French Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant was also to meet in the afternoon with representatives of the Muslim community.

"If the government imposes such a ban I don't know how the Muslim community will take this," Al Sid said. He said up to 200,000 sheep are slaughtered annually in France on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, which falls this year on March 5 and 6 and marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

France has a four-million strong Muslim community.

"This outbreak has spelled disaster for us," said Mohamed Balamar, an employee at a Halal butcher shop in Paris' 18th arrondissement (district). "It represents heavy losses of up to 80 percent of our business for this period."

He said his shop usually sells about 100 sheep during Eid al-Adha.

The feast, also known as Eid al-Kebir, is the second biggest holiday in Islam after Eid al-Fitr celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan.

"We were waiting for the holiday to try and recover from the losses we incurred because of the mad cow crisis but unfortunately this outbreak came about," he said. "So far I haven't received one order for a sheep because people are scared and the price is going up."

Officials at Paris' main wholesale market at Rungis said Thursday the outbreak of the disease had led to a 15 to 30 percent rise in the price of lamb over the last week.

The situation was similar in Belgium, where authorities on Thursday banned the slaughter of all sheep and lambs, even for religious purposes.

The country's large Muslim community said it was disappointed by the measure, which would spoil the holiday.

"A feast without a sacrifice can't be called a feast," said Nordin Malujahmoon, a representative of the Muslim community. "But then again I think Muslims will understand the measure and will be wise.

"We cannot run the risk of having all of the country's herds contaminated."

Meanwhile, members of the Muslim community in Britain were urged to carry out annual sacrifices -- or Qurbani -- on the occasion of Eid al-Adha outside the country this year.

The Halal Food Authority made the recommendation due to the ban on the movement of animals and because the culls will lead to a shortage of animals available for slaughter in Britain also.

Muslim charities such as Bait al Mal al Islami have made alternative arrangements in a number of countries, the authority said. That includes encouraging believers to send money overseas to have a sheep sacrificed on their behalf.

In the Netherlands, for example, a Muslim opting for this solution must send $78 to have a sheep sacrificed in Kosovo.

Foot-and-mouth disease can be passed on in animal feces and borne by the wind in fine droplets for tens of miles. Though not dangerous to humans, it can also be spread by people breathing or sneezing, and can lurk on clothes and footwear.

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