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Press Release 01/99

FAO: TO PROTECT ITSELF AGAINST FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE, EUROPE NEEDS TO SUPPORT DEVELOPING COUNTRIES


Brussels/Rome, 12 December - Effective control of the global threat of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) requires a concerted international strategy to combat and control it at the source, including in particular more assistance to the developing countries where the virus is endemic, said Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The FAO Director-General was addressing the International Conference on Prevention and Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease organised in Brussels (12-13 December 2001), by Belgium with the participation of the ministers concerned of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the European Commission, as well as experts and officials from other countries.

"Supporting developing countries to better control and eradicate transboundary animal diseases is in the mutual interest of agriculture and livestock in both rich and poor countries," Dr. Diouf said. He added that the European Union, which has recently suffered a serious FMD outbreak, is in a privileged position to promote international action against this disease. Amongst other measures, he urged the international community to establish an effective global information and early warning system on transboundary animal diseases.

No region or country fighting FMD in isolation can obtain lasting success, Dr. Diouf said. FMD is highly contagious and the virus can spread very rapidly through movement of infected animals and animal products, as well as contaminated objects (i.e. trucks).

"The last ten years have witnessed dramatic FMD epidemics resulting from the introduction of the disease into formerly free countries," Dr. Diouf said.

This year's FMD outbreak in the UK was caused by the Pan-Asian strain, which is particularly virulent and was first detected in South Asia, from where it has spread to South East and East Asian countries. It has also spread to the Middle East and made incursion into Greece and Bulgaria in 1996, as well as into South Africa in 2000. Many of the countries affected had been free from FMD for many years.

The same strain hit the UK earlier this year, then spread to Ireland, France and the Netherlands. In Europe, more than four million animals were slaughtered in 2001 in order to control the FMD epidemic.

A recent risk analysis conducted by FAO showed that 50 percent of the risk of introducing FMD to Europe was accounted for in three ways: illegal movements of livestock or animal products; foodstuffs carried by tourists or immigrants; legal trade in animal products.

"Strengthening of national border controls and of commodity inspections alone will not be enough to manage the risk of the international spread of FMD," Dr. Diouf said. " We need a global plan for the containment and progressive control of FMD at the source in the areas where it is still endemic." Endemic areas are located in Africa, the Near East, Asia and South America.

The FAO Director-General also mentioned other transboundary diseases, like classical swine fever, which has caused major losses in the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and Spain; African swine fever, which has caused a major pandemic in West Africa and parts of eastern-southern Africa and threatens from time to time the Iberian Peninsula. This disease is the main threat to the development of the pig industry in Africa. It resulted in losses of about 50 percent of the pig population in West Africa between 1996 and 1999.

Transboundary animal diseases also affect the livelihoods of millions of farmers in developing countries and hamper their possibilities of benefiting from the rapid increase in animal production and trade expected in the coming 20 years, which would offer them an opportunity to escape from hunger and poverty.

"We need global, risk-based surveillance in order to improve specific knowledge of where defined transboundary animal diseases are located and to generate sound intervention strategies," Dr. Diouf said. He mentioned in this regard the successful experience of FAO's Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) in combating rinderpest, which was for centuries a most dangerous transboundary disease and is now on its way to being finally eradicated by 2010. EMPRES could make a considerable contribution to a global action against FMD, he added.

A global information and early warning system could take account of the reports of the international official notification system as well as data resulting from field research and epidemiological studies in order to facilitate forecasting and early warning.

The international capacity for providing support in early detection, contingency planning and initial containment of suspected new outbreaks of transboundary animal diseases in developing countries should be strengthened. Veterinary inspection services should be improved. The international regulatory and standards system of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) should also be strengthened to provide for science-based, fair trade regulations.

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For more information please contact in Brussels Erwin Northoff, FAO Media Relations Officer, at: 39 348 2523616 (mobile) or the FAO Media Relations office at
39 06 5705 3625. You can also visit the FAO homepage at: http://www.fao.org.


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