Humanitarian Resource Institute: A U.S. & International Resource on the Scope of Humanitarian Assistance


The Vet Record 
COMMENT 12th January 2002 

Developing policy on FMD

Although press reports of last month's EU conference on foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) have tended to focus on the potential
use of vaccination in helping to control future outbreaks, the issues considered went much further than that. The conference,
held in Brussels from December 12 to 13, was organised by the Belgian EU presidency, the European Commission, the
Netherlands and the UK, and attended by representatives of the 15 EU member states, countries outside the EU and relevant
international organisations. Ministers and senior politicians from national parliaments and the European Parliament attended,
along with scientists and representatives of the agricultural sector, animal welfare organisations and consumer groups. The aim was to consider the whole question of the prevention and control of FMD in the light of the experiences of last year's
outbreaks, and the conclusions of the conference reflect this, covering issues such as disease management and prevention, the influence of EU animal husbandry structures and the role of vaccination, along with animal welfare and the socioeconomic
consequences of the disease for farmers, the food industry, consumers and society.

The text of some of the presentations given at the meeting can be viewed on the Internet at
<> and the conclusions and recommendations have been summarised in a document that is being considered by the EU's Agriculture Council. Mr David Byrne, the EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said that the Commission intended to introduce a proposal for a new directive early this year and would be looking for a new agreement on how to deal with FMD internationally by 2003.

It was overwhelmingly the view of the conference that there should not be a repeat of last year's outbreaks and that alternative
approaches to tackling the disease must be found. However, it was felt that there was unlikely to be any single answer to
dealing with FMD. Rather, there was a need to apply a combination of measures, and to introduce more flexibility in the EU
rules on controlling the disease and coping with its consequences. This would depend on the development of high quality
vaccines and validated diagnostic tests, particularly tests capable of differentiating between vaccinated and infected animals. It would also depend on convincing consumers that meat from vaccinated animals was safe to eat and introducing more flexibility into international trade rules, so that following control of an outbreak by vaccination, exports of animals known not to be infected could resume more quickly than is currently the case. As far as the last of these was concerned, it was argued that development of suitably validated diagnostic tests might offer scope for manoeuvre, though it remains to be seen whether this indeed proves to be the case.

The conference was firmly of the view that countries should continue to strive to maintain their FMD-free status and was
opposed to the idea of prophylactic vaccination throughout the EU. Nevertheless, it was felt that the Community needed to be
able to respond rapidly and flexibly to any future outbreaks, with appropriate responses depending on the particular
circumstances. This might include emergency vaccination in addition to compulsory stamping out of at least the infected herds, coupled with a system of regionalisation and strict controls on animal movements. However, the use of emergency vaccination had to be assessed in the context of international trade rules and the attitudes of consumers to meat from vaccinated animals; the importance of this was amply demonstrated by the experiences of the Netherlands during the 2001 outbreak, where emergency vaccination was used but the vaccinated animals had to be slaughtered and destroyed anyway, because there was no market for them. The public outrage at the destruction of vaccinated animals in the Netherlands was, if anything, even greater than the outrage at the slaughter of animals in the UK, highlighting the need for alternative approaches to be found. The conference emphasised the need for validation, registration and international recognition of reliable, discriminatory tests. It also called for better communication with the public about animal diseases and their consequences and the pros and cons of different methods of control.

As well as discussing options for controlling an outbreak, the congress placed equal, if not greater emphasis on preventing
FMD through controls on imports, including personal imports; measures aimed at reducing the spread of disease between
holdings; and improved biosecurity on individual holdings. It highlighted the need to ensure that mechanisms and resources are available in order to detect and respond rapidly to an emergency or suspicion of the disease, and called for a strengthening of veterinary services to ensure that they are in a position to respond appropriately. 

The conference also considered wider international elements of FMD control, suggesting there was more scope for the EU to
assist and cooperate with developing countries where the disease is endemic. The point was made that large-scale destruction of animals was viewed with alarm in countries having to live with the disease where food is in short supply.

Following the traumas of last year, the conference clearly demonstrated a will among the participants, and the EC itself, to
strengthen existing control measures and develop alternative approaches to tackling FMD. The challenge now is to convert that will into action.


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