Europe's success in fight against foot-and-mouth disease - risks remain
FAO calls upon countries to stay vigilant - 50th anniversary of European FMD Commission
10 June 2004, 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, FAO 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 neighbouring 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 one million outbreaks.
The risks are there
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 four 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.
Scope of the Commission
While the Commission previously focused on control and cooperation within Europe, the focus has now shifted to supporting countries in neighbouring 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 neighbouring countries so as to reduce the risk of disease incursion into the EU," Sumption said.
The Commission, which works closely with the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), has a financing agreement of $2.5 million with the EC-Commission over the last three years for its emergency activities.
FMD and poverty
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 efforts.
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 5705 3105
e-mail this article