Europe is Successful in Fight Against Foot-and-Mouth Disease but Risks Remain

WASHINGTON and ROME -- Europe can consider itself

almost free from the extremely contagious foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), after

centuries of devastating epidemics that have caused tremendous losses, the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) of the United Nations said today, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the European Commission for

the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Dublin, Ireland.

FAO called upon European countries to remain vigilant against possible

outbreaks and to continue their support to neighboring regions where the virus

is still endemic.

The risk of introducing the virus through illegal trade remains high, the

UN agency warned.

"Europe has made remarkable progress against FMD over the last decades.

Today, out of the 33 member countries of the Commission, 31 countries are free

from FMD, while the virus remains endemic in Turkey and Israel," said Keith

Sumption, secretary of the Commission.

The Commission was founded in 1954, three years after a major pandemic hit

France, Germany and many other European countries with nearly 1 million

outbreaks.

The last major FMD outbreak occurred in 2001, when a devastating epidemic

affected the UK, with outbreaks also in Ireland, France and the Netherlands.

A total of 4 million animals were slaughtered in the UK to control the

spread of the disease. Losses to agriculture and tourism amounted to about

$13 billion. The virus was probably imported from East or South-East Asia

through animal products.

"The last major outbreak in western Europe shows that the threat to FMD-

free countries in Europe continues to exist," Sumption said.

FMD remains endemic with a high prevalence in many countries in Africa,

the Middle East, Asia and parts of South America. Europe, North and Central

America, the South Pacific region and the Caribbean are free of the disease.

The FMD virus is relatively stable in chilled products and can be

transmitted through the -- often illegal -- movement of animals, animal

products or meat. Cattle, buffaloes, pigs, sheep, goats and deer are

susceptible to the virus.

Regions of concern are important cattle, buffalo and pig producing

countries in East, South and Western Asia, the Middle East and Africa where

the virus is endemic, FAO said.

While the Commission previously focused on control and cooperation within

Europe, the focus has now shifted to supporting countries in neighboring

regions to improve disease control and contributing to the global efforts

against the disease. The Commission supports surveillance and control campaigns in the Caucasus

and in Turkey, and assists member countries in preparations for potential

outbreaks. The body also acts as an early warning system on the regional and

global FMD situation.

"While the European Commission in Brussels takes the role of harmonizing

the efforts against FMD among EU countries, the FMD Commission is mainly

active in neighboring countries so as to reduce the risk of disease incursion

into the EU," Sumption said.

Poor countries have the biggest problem in defeating highly dangerous

diseases such as FMD, because they lack the veterinary services,

infrastructure and means to ensure surveillance and control.

"Helping poor countries to progressively control and eliminate FMD will

make milk and meat production in these countries safer and give farmers more

market opportunities. This will also contribute to reducing the FMD threat to

Europe," Sumption said.

FAO and OIE have recently set up a global framework for the control of

highly contagious transboundary animal diseases; this initiative is intended

to strongly enhance international collaboration and investment in such

efforts.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations

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