UK Better Place To Deal With Disease Outbreaks

UK - Ten years on from the worst Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in the UK’s history, National Farmers' Union (NFU) Scotland believes the country is better placed to deal with any new disease outbreak but still harbours concerns over disease security and proper policing at British ports and airports.
calendar icon 18 February 2011
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As media coverage of the anniversary grows, the Union believes that regular engagement with Scottish and UK Governments on contingency plans for all exotic diseases, including FMD, has helped preparedness. Coupled with regular planning exercises – such as the FMD exercise Silver Birch, carried out in November 2010 – the Union agrees that food and farming industries are now better organised should any exotic disease be discovered.

However, the UK’s island status should afford it a high degree of protection from any animal disease reaching its shores and NFU Scotland remains unconvinced that sufficient resources are directed toward policing border entry points to provide the necessary level of protection needed to prevent animal disease being brought in.

NFU Scotland President, Nigel Miller, who worked as a vet in Dumfries and Galloway during the 2001 outbreak, said: “A decade after the 2001 FMD outbreak, it is understandable that many of those who saw their livestock culled are still very raw and emotional about the event. At the same time, all Scotland’s livestock farmers were locked down in a bid to control the disease and 2001 is a year that will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons.

“Lessons from the 2001 outbreak have been learned and I genuinely believe that we are better placed to deal with an outbreak of any exotic disease within our livestock. At a farm level, our traceability systems for livestock are more robust, making disease control easier, and farmers are far more aware of the benefits of putting biosecurity measures in place to keep disease out of their stock.

“Nationally, we have contingency plans to cover all major exotic animal disease threats, drawn up with considerable stakeholder input, and these plans are regularly tested through planning exercises. Such planning exercises always identify practical issues and threats.

“There is no doubt that, while efforts have been made to step up border controls, these entry points into the UK still present the greatest risk. Policing at control points and the level of illegally imported meat found are, at best, an indication of the scale of the threat that our livestock regularly face.

“Illegal food imports run the risk of bringing in a host of diseases – not just FMD but diseases such as Classical and African Swine Fever. FMD affected parts of Japan last year and is currently circulating in South Korea and Eastern Europe, especially Bulgaria.

“Improved policing at ports and airports will help minimise the threat but the reality is that with these diseases continually circulating in other parts of the world, there is an air of inevitability that another major disease outbreak, such as FMD, will reach our shores.

“If that happens, then the way we deal with FMD could be markedly different to that seen in 2001. It is possible that vaccination will play a major part in disease control, which makes the role of consumers and retailers increasingly important if we are to have a sensible exit strategy from any future FMD outbreak.

“Consumer and retailer acceptability of FMD vaccinated animals entering the food chain is critical if vaccination is to be a better tool of controlling the disease than the previous option of simply culling affected animals. Vaccination is to be the subject of a major conference being staged in Scotland this spring where the 10th anniversary of the 2001 FMD outbreak is being appropriately marked by looking at a better and more acceptable way of dealing with the disease.”

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