F.A.O. warns of increased F.M.D. threats

by Bryan Salvage
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ROME – Heightened international surveillance against foot-and-mouth disease (F.M.D.) was urged on April 28 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (F.A.O.) following three recent F.M.D. outbreaks in Japan and South Korea.

F.M.D. is a highly contagious animal 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.

“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 Juan Lubroth, F.A.O.’s chief veterinary officer. “In the past nine years, incursions into officially F.M.D.-free countries, as were Japan and the Republic of Korea, have been extremely rare so to have three such events in four months are a serious cause for concern.

“We also have to ask ourselves if we aren’t facing a possible replay of the disastrous 2001 F.M.D. transcontinental epidemic, which spread to South Africa, the United Kingdom and Europe after earlier incursions in Japan and South Korea,” he added.

The 2001 F.M.D. outbreak caused more than $12 billion in losses to agriculture, the livestock trade and tourism in the U.K. alone. More than six million British sheep and cattle were estimated to have been culled to prevent further spread of the disease.

Earlier in April, Japan veterinary authorities confirmed an outbreak of type “O” F.M.D. virus, which is currently more common in Asian countries where F.M.D. is endemic. The Republic of Korea was hit by the rarer type “A” F.M.D. in January and then suffered type “O” infection in April.

To date, 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.

“Even one small outbreak in a previously F.M.D.-free country can cause millions of dollars of losses as global markets close and disease control measures are enforced,” Mr. Lubroth said.

Although the routes taken by the virus have not been identified, 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,” Mr. Lubroth said.

Strengthened biosecurity would most likely include a re-examination of possible routes of entry and measures to reinforce controls, heightened awareness of F.M.D. by all parties to assist earlier reporting and more rigorous checks at ports and airports.

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