28 April 2010, Rome - FAO today urged heightened international surveillance against foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) following three recent incursions in Japan and South Korea.
“We are worried because the rigorous biosecurity measures in place in the two countries were overwhelmed, pointing to a recent, large-scale weight of infection in source areas, very probably in the Far East,” said FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth.
“In the past nine years, incursions into officially FMD-free countries, as were Japan and the Republic of Korea, have been extremely rare so to have three such events in four months is a serious cause for concern,” he noted.
“We also have to ask ourselves if we aren’t facing a possible replay of the disastrous 2001 FMD transcontinental epidemic which spread to South Africa, the United Kingdom and Europe after earlier incursions in Japan and South Korea,” Lubroth added.
The 2001 FMD outbreak caused eight billion pounds (more than $12 billion) of losses to agriculture, livestock trade and tourism in the UK alone. More than six million British sheep and cattle were estimated to have been slaughtered in order to prevent further spread of the disease.
Earlier this month Japan veterinary authorities confirmed an outbreak of type “O” FMD virus, currently more common in Asian countries where FMD is endemic. The Republic of Korea was hit by the rarer type “A” FMD in January and then suffered type “O” infection in April.
So far Japan has had to slaughter 385 animals – buffaloes, cattle and pigs – in its initial response to the outbreak and the Republic of Korea has destroyed more than 3 500 animals, mostly pigs, in responding to its outbreaks.
High cost of outbreaks
“Even one small outbreak in a previously FMD-free country can cause millions of dollars of losses as global markets close and disease control measures are enforced,” Lubroth said.
The routes taken by the virus have not been identified, but experts say it is possible the infection occurred through food waste, with pigs eating infected meat scraps. Understanding how biosecurity breaches occurred is important to prevent similar events elsewhere.
“Under the circumstances we consider that all countries are at risk and a review of preventive measures and response capacity would be welcome,” Lubroth said.
Strengthened biosecurity would most likely include a re-examination of possible routes of entry and measures to reinforce controls, heightened awareness of FMD by all parties to assist earlier reporting and more rigorous checks at ports and airports.
Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious disease of cloven-hoofed animals including cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. It causes high fever and characteristic lesions in animals’mouths and feet. Humans are not affected.