Twenty-Sixth FAO Regional Conference for the Near East

Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, 9 - 13 March 2002

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and Foot and Mouth Disease Risk Assessment: Implications for the Near East

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Action Taken by European Union

III. FAO Recommendations

IV. Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD)

V. FMD in the Middle East Region 

VI. FMD in the Maghreb Region 

VII. Risk Management in the Region 

VIII. Consequences of FMD Infection in the Region 

IX. Recommendations

I.  Introduction

FAO issued a press statement on 26 January 2001 that urging all countries to assess their exposure to the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its human form, the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). FAO suggested that all countries which have imported cattle or meat and bone meal (MBM) from Western Europe, especially from the UK, since the 1980s, could be considered at risk. It added that countries at risk should implement effective surveillance for BSE in cattle and controls on the animal feed and meat industries.

Trade in meat and bone meal (MBM) and live cattle and (BSE) risk

BSE was first diagnosed in the UK in 1986. It was not until 1989 that MBM was suggested as the probable source of the BSE infection. At that time, MBM was banned from ruminant feeds in the UK. However, export to Europe continued until 1996. It was in 1994 that the feeding of MBM was banned in the European Union and not until January 2001 that a ban was introduced on the use of ruminant MBM and certain other animal proteins in feedstuffs for all farm animals in order to avoid risks of cross-contamination. At the same time, Europe effectively banned the export of MBM to third countries for use in animal feed.

Examination of the trade data shows that MBM was exported from the UK and Europe to more than 100 countries during the critical period from 1986 onwards. Besides the export of MBM to Europe from the UK until 1996, there was export from other European countries which have subsequently been found to have BSE in their native herds. In addition, there was almost certainly further trade from third countries onwards. At the same time, live cattle were also exported to more than 100 countries from Europe. Figures 3 and 4 show expanding trends and worldwide flows of MBM.

Figure 3.

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Figure 4.

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In Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) countries, imports of MBM rose from 24,000 tonnes in 1979 to 107,000 tonnes in 1999. Of the 44,000 tonnes imported in 1989 (the year that the UK banned the use of MBM in ruminant feeds), over 10,000 tonnes were imported from the UK and France.

II.  Actions taken by the European Union

After BSE was first diagnosed in the UK in 1986, outbreaks occurred in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, as well as in Switzerland, and there were cases in imported animals in Canada, the Falkland Islands and Oman. Consequently, the EU has introduced increasingly stringent regulations and actions. These include the following:

  A ban on the feeding of mammalian MBM to cattle, sheep and goats, as of July 1994;

  Removal of specified high-risk materials (SRMs like spinal cord, brain, eyes, tonsils, parts of the intestines) from cattle, sheep and goats throughout the EU starting 1 October 2000 from the human and animal food chains;

  The introduction of targeted testing for BSE, with a focus on high risk animal categories, starting 1 January 2001. This measure was extended to all cattle aged over 30 months starting 1 July 2001;

A ban on MBM to all farm animals and fishmeal to ruminants, starting 1 Jan 2001

Moreover, the European Commission Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) undertook a comprehensive risk assessment of third countries based on trade data and the assessment of relevant internal systems and measures in place.

III.  FAO Recommendations

FAO is encouraging action at national and regional levels. All countries should ban the use of ruminant tissues in ruminant feed. All countries should establish continuous surveillance and compulsory notification for BSE. No part or product of any animal which has shown signs of a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) should enter any food chain (human or animal). In particular, all countries must ensure the killing and safe disposal of all parts or products of such animals so that TSE infectivity cannot enter the food chain. Countries should review their rendering procedures to ensure that they effectively inactivate TSE agents.

More studies are required to allow a full risk assessment. Incomplete risk assessment hinders accurate risk communication and perception. Research on TSE should be promoted, especially regarding rapid diagnosis, agent characterization and epidemiology.

Every country should undertake the following measures:

♦  National Risk Analysis to determine its own risk status

♦  Surveillance for BSE in cattle at risk of having been exposed to infective material

Restriction of MBM in ruminant feed

Banning of Specified Risk Materials and fallen stock from MBM

Stricter Feed and Meat industry regulation and enforcement thereof

FAO supports such action through national or regional Technical Cooperation Projects, at the request of governments. It is also actively seeking donor support to facilitate such projects. These will be aimed at:

Mechanisms to assist countries in national risk assessments

Support of capacity building for BSE surveillance and control

Development of appropriate risk management options

Hazard analysis and critical control point methods for the feed industry

Good Farming Practices for on-farm livestock production

Given the direct links between feed safety and safety of foods of animal origin, it is essential that feed production and manufacture be considered as an integral part of the food production chain. Feed production must therefore be subject, in the same way as food production, to quality assurance including food safety systems based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) methods.

The industry is responsible for the quality and safety of the food and feed that it produces. National authorities should provide guidance to industry including codes of practice and standards that they must respect. Governments must also establish the necessary controls to ensure that industry consistently meets mandatory quality and safety requirements.

It is the responsibility of industry and national governments to ensure safety of feed and food. It is important to realize; however, that the large volume of international trade in foods of animal origin, as well as in feedstuffs, adds an important international dimension to the control of animal feedstuffs. Furthermore, the World Trade Organization Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures advocates that national standards related to food safety be harmonized with international standards.

IV.  Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD)


Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious disease of viral origin and to which all cloven-hoofed animals are susceptible, including domestic livestock and wild ungulates. This disease is characterized by a high morbidity but low mortality rate and often produces only mild clinical signs in sheep and goats.

The principal signs are high fever followed by vesicle formation in the mouth, on the coronary band and in the interdigital space of the feet. Young, nursing animals can have a high mortality rate due to starvation when their mouth lesions prevent nursing and the dam refuses to give milk due to painful lesions on the udder.

Financial losses to farmers from FMD can be high. The major losses are due to decrease in production, to inability of draft animals to till fields and to the imposition of trade restrictions.

During the last ten years, there have been significant progress but also set-backs in the control of FMD. Until recently, some South American countries were able to eradicate the disease through persistent high vaccination rates of cattle, enhanced cooperation and leadership from private sector beef raisers, and the use of potent oil vaccines and improved movement control. In some southern African countries, zones without disease were created in order to permit the exportation of meat.

In recent years, serious epidemics of FMD have occurred outside areas of endemicity causing major economic losses, and leading to a set-back, e.g. type O FMD in Taiwan Province of China in 1997 and again in 2000; type O Pan-Asian prototype, which over a period of 10 years spread progressively from South Asia eastward to China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Taiwan Province of China and westward to the Middle east and south-east Europe, and during 2000-2001 leapt to South Africa and to UK, France, Netherlands and Ireland. Type SAT2 spread to Saudi Arabia in 2000, which is the first time this type has been recorded outside Africa. SAT1 was introduced to Bahrain in January 1962 and then to Turkey and Iran.

Other challenges facing the Region include; realization of high levels of Food Security, sustainable management of natural resources, sustained increases in crop and livestock production, mitigation of drought, combating desertification, reducing rural and urban poverty, improved quality and value added of agricultural products through industrialization and improved post harvest handling including acceptable quality standard and reduction of post harvest food losses, control and eradication of plant pest and livestock disease, reducing unemployment, increasing investment in agriculture, including external assistance, increasing intra-regional economic and technical co-operation.

V.  FMD in the Middle Eastern part of the Near East Region (RNE)

Several strains of FMD virus are encountered in the RNE area. Except for Cyprus, no RNE country is considered free from the disease according to the Office International des Epizooties.

Since 1999, in the Near East Region, the FMD sanitary situation deteriorated, and several FMD viruses strains of the types O, A and Asia diffused. From a previously sporadic and rather cyclic FMD pattern, the disease shape is now mainly endemic in most of the countries.

In the Region, the type O virus was most frequently encountered. In 2000, 151 outbreaks in Oman, 25 in Qatar and 8 in Egypt were reported. The situation in Iran was more complex, with 334 outbreaks of FMD type O, but also of type A and Asia1. During the same year, type SAT2 virus was identified for the first time and was the cause of 22 outbreaks in Kuwait. In 2001, the sanitary FMD situation deteriorated further with the spread of the Pan-Asian O strain reported in Turkey, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.

VI.  FMD in the Maghreb

Four of the Maghreb countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya) form a homogeneous ecological area with natural barriers like the Libyan desert to the East and the Sahara to the South. These countries have approximately about 5 million cattle and 50 million small ruminants. Because of climatic constraints, cattle are located in the North of the Maghreb region, and small ruminants are located in the centre and South.

FMD has appeared sporadically in the three Maghreb countries coming from outside the sub-region (Table 1). Historically, epidemics mainly affected cattle and spread from the East to the West. However, the role of small ruminants has to be taken into account. The rather low spread of FMD from Tunisia in 1989 to Morocco in 1991 exemplifies the difficulty to control the disease in these species. In 1999, an outbreak of FMD type O developed in North Africa. The disease was first diagnosed in Algeria from where it spread quickly to Morocco and Tunisia. Finally, 163 outbreaks were reported in Algeria, 11 in Morocco and 2 in Tunisia. Since August 1999 no outbreaks have been declared in North Africa.

Table 1: FMD outbreaks in Maghreb from 1967 to 1999



Virus type

Infected species




































n.s.*: not specified

The situation in the Near East Region (RNE) is a threat for other regions of the world, especially Europe. During the past ten years, FMD spread several times from the Eastern part of the Near East Region to Europe infecting the European part of Turkey (Thrace), Greece, Bulgaria, and Italy.

FMD hazards identified in the Region

RNE is surrounded by some other FMD infected areas such as Caucasian countries, Eastern and Western Africa and South Asia. The spread of FMD strains exotic to the RNE Region has been identified:

The first reason for this development is that some countries in the Region are important livestock import market without effective pre-import and quarantine measures. The second reason is the uncontrolled movement of animals across borders.

Undisplayed Graphic Undisplayed Graphic

 Figure 5: Distribution of species susceptible to FMD in the Near East Region

Movement of animals within the Region is mainly governed by the characteristics of the animal population. The Near East Region is characterized by the quasi-absence of pigs and the importance of small ruminants (443 million vs. 137 million cattle and buffaloes, Figure 6). The agro-pastoral system is predominant, which implies much livestock movement due to transhumance, drought or attraction of markets. Religious festivals and Islamic charity are also favouring livestock movement.

VII.  Risk Management in the Region

Risk management differs between North Africa and the Eastern part of RNE due to different epidemiological situations.

In the Eastern part of RNE, the national cattle population is the main target of preventive vaccination. Vaccination is used more as a tool for preventing the economic loss due to the disease than as a means to prevent the spread of the infection. As the diagnostic capacities in the area are limited and as only few samples are sent to the FAO/OIE World Reference Laboratory in Pirbright (UK), the adjustment of vaccines to the circulating strains of FMD is not always appropriate. Some countries, such as Turkey and Iran, also vaccinate small ruminants in specific areas to prevent introduction from neighbouring countries.

In North Africa, as the disease occurs almost cyclically, the management is more focused on emergency preparedness and limitation of the diffusion of the disease when it is diagnosed; effective control measures based on quarantine and mass vaccination are used. Since 1999, the 3 countries (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco) vaccinate cattle. Tunisia includes sheep population in the vaccination campaigns.

A regional animal disease information and surveillance network system (RADISCON) is being promoted by FAO and IFAD in the Region. RADISCON is a mechanism to enhance the quality of national and regional surveillance system and the exchange of information between the neighbouring countries.

VIII.  Consequences of FMD Infection in the Near East Region

FMD in the Region is perceived differently according to the type of farming system. In the intensified livestock sector (modern dairy cattle farms), the economic consequences are important. Farmers who are interested in extending their market face sanitary barriers either under informal intra-regional trade restriction or under the WTO and SPS Agreement. For the farmers from the traditional sector, FMD infection is often mild with a low mortality rate and consequences are perceived only when a new strain is involved.

As a consequence, the control of external and internal sources of FMD is not systematically addressed in the Region. At the national and regional levels, systems for early detection of the disease or of the emergence of new strains are needed. Furthermore, implementation of adapted control strategies has to be strengthened.

The Near East Region can be separated in two areas according to their FMD situation: Maghreb where the disease appears from time to time, and the Eastern part where the disease is now endemic.

IX.  Recommendations

To reduce future outbreaks of FMD in Near East Region countries, a common strategic programme should be adopted. It should include the following: