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Points of View
Management of Livestock Disease

More than two months after the first outbreak of disease, the foot-and-mouth crisis in the UK continues although the number of new cases confirmed each day has declined significantly. During this outbreak, methods for controlling the disease have been hotly debated. Has the slaughter policy been the most effective course of action? Vaccination is an option used in many countries affected by foot-and-mouth but appears unlikely to be taken up in the UK. Diseases, such as foot-and-mouth, are not restrained by barriers or borders so what are the options that have to be taken into consideration for containing such Transboundary Diseases, (including rinderpest, PPR, CBPP and Rift valley fever) which can devastate livestock, farmers' livelihoods and national economies in both developed and developing countries?


The State Veterinary Service has advised that culling susceptible animals on contiguous farms is vital to prevent further onward spread of the disease. …the key methods which have the greatest prospect of bringing the epidemic quickly under control are:
(a) the slaughter of all livestock on farms where there are confirmed cases of infection, within 24 hours of the first report; and
(b) rapid slaughter of susceptible animals on contiguous farms within 48 hours.
Failure to implement these measures would mean continuing growth in the scale of the epidemic for a further lengthy period.
UK Ministry of Agriculture,Forests and Fisheries website, April 2001

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The logistical problems presented by rapid spread of disease are well recognised… Problems of manpower and supplies can prevent the rapid follow-up, diagnosis, slaughter and destruction of infected animals ... When resources are extremely stretched, the Ministry has extreme difficulty overtaking and halting the spread of disease.

The recognition in 1968 that air currents could carry the virus is the ultimate example of how resistant this virus is to man-made restrictions. If these complexities had been realised at first, it is doubtful that legislative efforts and slaughter would ever have been thought appropriate to FMD management.
Extract from 'Foot and Mouth Disease: An evaluation of the current control policy from a historical perspective' by Abigail Woods, PhD student in the History of FMD in 20th Century Britain

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The government seems to be playing to the public too much, trying to keep everybody happy and doing nothing properly. The French clamped down immediately and everything was slaughtered within, was it a two mile radius? And it was done instantly. But everything is far too slow. I can't imagine how it is going to end.
Jane Downing, a British livestock farmer, March 2001

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In the seven-day period ending Sunday 15 April, there was an average of 27 new confirmed cases each day, compared to 43 in the seven-day period ending Sunday 1 April. This is a significant reduction in cases. The figures for the first part of this week (21, 22 and 19) are in line with the declining trend.

Overall in GB the policy of culling animals on infected premises within 24 hours and animals which are dangerous contacts, because they are either on neighbouring farms or known to have been in contact with infected animals seems to be working.
Statement for the UK Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof. David King, 19 April 2001

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Progress on new vaccines has been slow, in part because of the complexity of the virus [FMD] and its many strains, and in part because public -and private- sector vaccine makers have little reason to invest while rich-country governments eschew the practice.

Better diagnostic tests to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals are already at hand. One, developed by the IZSLE, a government research centre in Brescia, Italy, has already been used successfully on animals in Albania, Macedonia and Argentina. According to Yves Leforban, head of the European Commission for the control of foot-and-mouth disease, it has yet to be accepted by the OIE because of technical concerns. Given the current crisis and the pressure for emergency vaccination in Europe, however, the organisation may soon have to re-evaluate the test's merits.
The Economist, 31 March 2001

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From any particular outbreak we can look at the strain that caused that outbreak and relate it to other strains of rinderpest virus that we have found in other areas. From this we can make deductions of where the disease came from. Now if we can do that it enables us to target our resources to those remaining pockets where it is coming from. And indeed this is proving highly successful in areas such as Somalia and Sudan and further afield in West Asia and in South East Asia.
Dr Martyn Jeggo, Head of Animal Production and Health Section, FAO/IAEA Joint Division, on the success of a programme to track the spread of rinderpest in Africa and Asia

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In the Dutch outbreak the EC approved vaccination of animals within 2 km of the infected premises, on condition that there was intensive surveillance for FMD within a further 10 km radius and that all vaccinated animals were eventually destroyed... Because vaccination is not foolproof as a way of avoiding infection, suppressive vaccination may not bring an outbreak under control as quickly or as effectively as fast cull of infected premises and the areas surrounding them.
UK MAFF website, April 2001

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One of the reasons why we have been unconvinced by the argument for vaccination is our fear that in the long run vaccination might mean more animals being slaughtered than the under the present policy.

It is sometimes presented that vaccination means an end to slaughter. This is not so… Even in the vaccinated areas, there will still be FMD cases in cattle and, depending on the circumstances, this will mean slaughtering the infected animal or the entire herd.

It is by no means certain that the EU Regulation which permits vaccination in the UK allows the vaccinated animals to live, as the government has claimed. The text is ambiguous. In Holland, vaccinated animals are now being systematically slaughtered.
Ben Gill, President, National Farmers Union (UK), Letter to NFU members, 19 April 2001

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This is the 21st century. Surely we can come up with some better approach than destroying life on such a massive scale, which is very traumatising for the people who own these animals and care for them on a day-by-day basis?
Dr. Michael Meredith, Director of the Pig Disease Information Centre indicates his anger over the slaughter policy being used to tackle the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Britain - excerpt taken from NPR's All Things Considered

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Technical advances now mean that infected cattle and sheep can be distinguished by tests from those that have been vaccinated… [These tests] are used in South America for identification and control of pockets of virus among vaccinated animals. Herds that have been identified would need for practical purposes to be considered as infected and culled, but the national proportion of culled beasts would probably be much lower than under conditions where slaughter does not occur early enough to prevent the disease spreading.
Dr John Greene, Letters, Daily Telegraph, 16 March 2001

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Across the world, many farmers use vaccination to protect their stock, particularly in areas where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic in the wildlife or among domesticated animals. It is most commonly used on cattle, because they are more valuable than sheep. The clinical signs of the disease are obvious in cattle, so the risk of vaccinating animals which already have the disease is lower than for sheep. Because of the way they are farmed, vaccination campaigns in sheep have been less successful.

There is some evidence that, left to itself, the disease can die out of a flock of sheep over a period of a few months: this seems to have happened in Greece and Italy, where surveillance following the end of an outbreak found some flocks where some animals had been infected and recovered. Uruguay successfully tackled the disease by vaccinating cattle but not sheep.
UK MAFF website, April 2001

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The real problem with the vaccine though is that it does not work very well. The amount of protection you get is probably only about 60 or 70% at most, and also the protection only lasts for about a year. So basically, farmers will not pay to use that kind of a vaccine. You spend some money on a vaccine, protect your animals, and next year they are as susceptible again.

So we really do need a concerted approach not just within a single country but across Africa as a whole, because the disease is spreading from one country to another. It will enter Tanzania from Uganda or Kenya, and until all the countries work together we are not really going to get rid of this problem.
Dr John March of the Moredun Research Institute explains the need for co-ordination between different countries in Africa to control the spread of contagious bovine pleuro pneumonia.

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Since August 2000, the epidemiological situation in the [South American] sub-region points to the need to consider a new approach to foot and mouth disease control, involving a more integrated approach among the countries of the region, and to adopt measures that are more appropriate for its geographic and productive conditions.

The general aims of the new measures are to neutralize the risk of the introduction and spread of the FMD virus from outside the country and, consequently, exposure to the virus through movements, by creating FMD free zones with temporary controlled vaccination, in the form of a border buffer zone and a restriction zone.

Argentina is requesting neighbouring countries in the region to apply complementary and co-ordinated measures whilst these provisional measures are being enforced.
Dr Oscar Bruni, Delegate of Argentina to the OIE

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The huge numbers of livestock in Central Asia remain an extremely fertile breeding ground for FMD and other epidemics capable of evolving and generating new strains of virus…sadly, in Afghanistan there is no prospect of any immediate measures to combat FMD…Elsewhere in the region, preventative steps have been largely futile. Earlier efforts by the FAO to develop surveillance mechanisms with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan fell apart.

Thirty miles from the Kyrgyz border in nearby Tajikistan, the highly infectious FMD has been detected in cattle on several farms … Media reports say that local authorities are taking some immediate steps, including placing restrictions on the sale of meat and dairy products in markets.
Landmark, March/April 2001

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Central Asia is a back door into Europe. The Russians are worried that if foot-and-mouth in Kazakhstan spreads, they will get the virus. The Russian Federation has been free from the disease for many years, and if it gets rampant and widespread in Russia, it is only a short step to Central and Eastern Europe. Because of the problems of controlling trade in Europe, it is very easy for the virus to gain access to the European Union and to cause the sort of outbreaks that we have seen in Britain.

If nothing is done to curtail these two recent outbreaks [in Tajikistan], then those viruses will spread throughout the rest of the Central Asian republics without doubt. We don't even know what particular strain they are. They may represent a new strain which has not been present in the region before.
Peter Roeder, animal health expert, FAO, quoted in Landmark, March /April 2001

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'Look at the cost of these recent outbreaks. It would be better to do routine prophylactic vaccination, then good surveillance for infection.' …slaughterhouses could routinely test for these infections, along with BSE. Such tests should soon get a lot quicker and cheaper. The US military is already developing 'biochips' to detect biological weapons, for example. Routine testing for 20 diseases on one chip could bridge the gap in veterinary surveillance that let Britain's FMD outbreak spread for weeks before it was spotted. More to the point, farmers could vaccinate their livestock and still pick up any stray infection. 'It would cost a lot less to speed the development of this technology than to pay for more big outbreaks.'
Deborah Mackenzie, in New Scientist, 31 March 2001, with quotes from Rob Moormann of the Dutch Institute for Animal Science and Health

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Vaccines are available but vaccination is not always the best option. For this disease, surveillance, to set up what we call 'early warning', is the best system for controlling this disease. So for early warning, the best option is to have what we call 'sentinel herds', susceptible animals which you are going to visit and check for clinical signs of the disease and take some blood samples for laboratory analysis. If we find some positive cases we have to go back to find out if there is a clinical sign of the disease.
Dr Karim Tounkara, Head of Diagnosis and Research, Animal Health Laboratory, Mali, on the use of 'sentinel herds' in controlling the spread of Rift valley fever.

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Britain has always been intensely proud of her ability to abolish disease. Our island status has meant that several diseases, once eliminated by stamping out have been permanently kept out of the country eg cattle plague, sheep pox, rabies. This geographical 'difference' has been continually emphasised as reason why disease elimination is achievable in Britain but rather more difficult elsewhere, and has been used by MAFF to justify the rejection of preferred continental means of disease control in favour of a stamping out policy. However, this 'island' status has been increasingly undermined by the expansion of free European and world trade and widespread tourism ... The confidence in British isolation and its implications for disease control measures is therefore less justified than in the past…

…the world has changed and the past is no guarantee of future success.
Extract from 'Foot and Mouth Disease' by Abigail Woods

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Afflicted animals almost always recover and become immune to that strain of the [foot-and-mouth] infection. This builds herd immunity and means they are more resistant the next time the disease strikes. The much-touted "weight loss" is something the animal will get over in a matter of weeks. The only herdsman in Britain ever to have nursed sick animals back to health was Henry Hamilton, the manager of the Duke of Westminster's herd in the 1922-24 outbreak. He wrote his experiences in 1967 and reported that cattle which had the infection in November 1923 were winning prizes at the Royal Show 8 months later.
From the www.whatareweswallowing.freeserve.co.uk website

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We unanimously support the proposal for a vaccination programme for cattle in Cumbria provided only that it does not draw resources away from the present 24/48 hour slaughter policy and that it gains sufficient support from farmers. This is not so much to contain the spread of infection, though it will have some effect, but to protect vulnerable animals, and to help with the logistics of cull and disposal.
UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser's FMD Science Group

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The impact of any vaccination varies between individual animals as well as between species. If the vaccine now available were given to a herd or flock, on average it would provide protection to 98% of them.
UK MAFF website, April 2001

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Once an animal is vaccinated, if it is a carrier it could keep the virus for a long time. So that animal to all practical purposes might look normal, but when you introduce that animal in a virgin population you will have an outbreak of the disease.
Prof Tilahun Yilma, of the University of California, Davis on the dangers posed by vaccinated cattle that become carriers of the foot-and-mouth virus - excerpt taken from NPR' s All Things Considered. To hear the full report click here.

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There is conflicting veterinary advice as to the risk that vaccinated cattle pose as potential "carriers" of the disease and, hence, the extent to which vaccination itself could both prolong the disease and require further slaughtering. Only this week, Government scientists stated that, after vaccination, animals are unlikely to develop FMD unless already infected at the time of vaccination. Yet, if exposed to the virus, they warn that up to half of the animals may carry the virus, without becoming infectious or showing clinical symptoms of the disease. A proportion of these animals may become infective.
Letter to NFU members, Ben Gill, President, National Farmers Union (UK), 19 April 2001

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There is no doubt this culling out of farms represents Armageddon for this county. … In my view, people who want to continue farming want to save their stock by vaccination; those who want to retire or get out want a generous compensation cheque.
Mike Downham, farmer in Cumbria -The Guardian, 19 April 2001

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This particular disease has to be controlled because it affects the small livestock, that is sheep and goats, which are maintained by the landless and marginal farmers. But controlling of PPR has got a disadvantage. The population is replaced constantly and this factor provides a susceptible population readily available for the virus to survive. The slaughtered animals' meat can be utilised, so the farmer can recover part of its money. But all the same he loses quite a substantial proportion of his income. So if that has to be protected, we must have provision of compensation and of slaughter, and giving back the farmers the confidence with which they were operating during the absence of PPR.
Dr AK Mukhopadhyay, Co-ordinator, National Project on Rinderpest Eradication, India - on the importance of having a well-structured programme for slaughter and compensation in eradicating Peste de Petit Ruminants (PPR).

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It will be difficult to persuade the farmer [of the need to use a vaccine] because unfortunately when you've had the disease for quite a while, generally the farmer just accepts that a certain percentage of his cattle are going to be ill and a certain percentage are going to die. So we also need education.

It's a lot more difficult to get rid of it from an endemic area but hopefully the first step will be to wipe out the disease in areas where it's not endemic, but where it's threatening to come in, for example at the border of Namibia. Then we can start moving into the endemic areas, educate the farmers and show them that a vaccine will work and then hopefully they will use it.
Dr John March, Mordun Research Institute, on control of Contagious Bovine Pleuro Pneumonia in Africa

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All movement of livestock was stopped as soon as we confirmed an outbreak of foot and mouth. This measure has been effective in preventing the further rapid spread of the disease across the country. It is the reason why the disease is largely restricted to a number of hotspot areas ... Most of the cases occurring outside these areas can be linked back to the movement of animals before the movement restrictions were imposed.
UK MAFF website, April 2001

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This war against farm animals reflects the insanity of those who promote globalised, industrialised, food systems which create, promote and spread disease, but who simultaneously want a 'disease free national herd'.

This crisis in the UK should make us all think more seriously about globalisation of food and agriculture. We need to explore what is the most reliable way to produce safe food, protect human and animal health, build immunity and resilience in our farming. The crisis needs a systems response, not military operations.
Dr Vandana Shiva, physicist and ecologist, in Guardian Unlimited, 4 April 2001

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The reappraisal which will follow once the epidemic is over should not just be about farming methods. Farm production and the marketing of produce must be seen in the context of the whole food chain from farm through marketing, processing, distribution and retail sales as well as taking into account the demands which consumers themselves impose on the process through their own purchasing habits. The FMD epidemic owes less to the way we farm than to the way we regulate imports and to the procurement and distribution systems which have been developed to service the needs of the major companies who dominate food processing and sales.
John Lampitt, Chairman, Farmers' World network, in Landmark, March/April 2001

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