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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
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
Source: Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations