Global Risks and Costs of Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreaks

ANALYSIS - The threat of foot and mouth disease to the global livestock and meat industry is never far away, writes Chris Harris.
calendar icon 28 November 2013
clock icon 5 minute read

This year outbreaks of the disease have been common in Russia, China and Africa as well as other regions mainly in South East Asia.

The latest reported outbreak is in Viet Nam where the disease has been reported in five provinces.

The disease has affected more than 1,300 animals including cattle, buffalos and pigs in the provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Quang Nam, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

Ha Tinh province was hit hardest with nearly 800 animals in 31 communes infected since August this year.

Recent floods have been blamed for the rapid spread of the disease and poor management and slow response to the disease by local authorities as well as lack of public awareness have also contributed to the outbreak.

Agriculture Deputy Minister Le Van Tam warned the outbreak in Ha Tinh could spread to surrounding localities unless proper measures were taken to control the disease.

The ministry plans to send 200,000 doses of vaccine to Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Da Nang, Nghe An and Thua Thien-Hue.

In many countries the disease in endemic in the wild animal population and the only means of producing meat and livestock and at the same time keeping Foot and Mouth disease at bay is by vaccination.

However, vaccination also has a global market impact as countries that declare themselves free of foot and mouth disease with vaccination still face sanitary and biosecurity measures in trading meat products.

Often vaccination is the only alternative to the deep and lasting damage an outbreak of foot and mouth disease can cause to the livestock, farming and meat sector of a country.

Two years ago the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in South Korea caused untold damage to the domestic pig industry reducing production by nearly 30 per cent and seeing imports of pig meat rise by more than 90 per cent.

The affect that an outbreak can have was also recently examined by the Australia Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences – ABARES – who found that the disease could cost to the livestock sector and the economy as a whole could reach more than A$50 billion over 10 years.

Acting Executive Director, ABARES, Dr Kim Ritman, said producers of beef, sheep, dairy and wool would be devastated by such a large FMD outbreak.

“All red meat, live animal and livestock product exports to most major trading partners would stop until the disease was eradicated and market access could be renegotiated,” Dr Ritman said.

Dr Ritman added that this could be a lengthy process, pointing to the experiences of other countries with disease outbreaks and Australia’s own challenges in opening new export markets.

“It could take several years before we could get our product back into our major export markets,” Dr Ritman said.

Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, said the ABARES report served as a timely reminder about the importance of maintaining an effective biosecurity system in Australia.

“Australia has a comprehensive biosecurity system designed to keep diseases such as FMD out of the country,” Dr Schipp said.

“We have stringent controls at the border and we do quite a lot of work with our near neighbours in south-east Asia to minimise the risk of it getting in.”

Dr Schipp explained that plans are in place to ensure that, in the unlikely event that the disease did get into the country, it would be eradicated as quickly as possible.

“This involves the Australian Government working closely with the states and territories as well as with industry to ensure we’re prepared and respond rapidly,” Dr Schipp said.

Nearly 13 years ago in the UK, an outbreak that lasted nearly nine months saw more than 2000 premises infected with the disease, animals culled on more than 10,000 farms with more than 6.5 million animals slaughtered and the cost of the crisis reaching £8 billion.

According to a report from the Centre for Rural Economy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne: “This was the most damaging and destructive outbreak in a hitherto FMD-free country anywhere in the world.”

The cause of this outbreak has been put down to feeding contaminated and untreated food waste to pigs. However the outbreak was not restricted to pigs and spread across all the susceptible species.

There is little wonder then that, when a celebrity led campaign was mounted in the UK last week calling for food waste to be fed to pigs, there was an outcry from the industry and vets alike.

The campaign, the Pig Idea, led by environmentalist Tristan Stuart with backing from celebrity chefs such as Thomasina Miers and Hugh Fernley-Whitrtingstall maintains that after the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak “politicians introduced a ban on feeding catering waste to pigs without considering the ban’s economic and environmental impacts”.

They maintain that feeding the waste would reduce farmers’ reliance on imported soy meal from South America to use as pig feed.

The highlight of the campaign was a feast event in central London encouraging the general public to back a relaxation of the current European legislation that bans the use of products which have entered the human food chain, such as restaurant waste being used as food for pigs.

However, during the London Vet Show, the British Veterinary Association issued a stark warning about the potential risks.

The BVA said that the celebrity campaigners were underestimating the disease risks.

BVA president Robin Hargreaves said: “We appreciate the efforts of campaigners to encourage the pig industry to use legal waste products from the food production industry such as hops and whey.

“We understand that the pigs featured at the event have been fed on garden and bakery waste. This is a safe and legal approach already widely adopted by many pig farmers.

“However, the legislation barring traditional swill feeding has been very effective in protecting the UK against further outbreaks of diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease, classical swine fever and African swine fever.

“While a return to swill feeding seems appealing on the surface, we remain concerned that checks could never be enforced effectively enough to ensure that no traces of meat, including pork products, were included in feed.”

Pig Veterinary Society president Grace Webster said: “Strict controls on pig feeding exist to shield pigs and other livestock from disease and have been extremely effective in preventing outbreaks.

“We would like to remind pig owners that these laws remain unchanged and they should continue to avoid swill feeding in order to protect their animals.”

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