Scientists at the Institute for Animal Health have secured nearly £2m to tackle foot-and-mouth disease.

The funding places the Surrey-based institute at the centre of global expertise on research, surveillance and diagnostics for foot-and-mouth – the world’s most contagious animal disease.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), awarded the money to the institute as part of a global strategy to control foot-and-mouth.

Funding of $3m (£1.92m) over the next five years will be provided to support the foot-and-mouth laboratory at Pirbright, which is part of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded Institute for Animal Health.

Jef Hammond, head of the world reference laboratory foot-and-mouth disease at IAH Pirbright, said: “The initial phase of the strategy, which includes the funding for our lab, gives us an opportunity on a global scale to implement the measures that we know can work to control foot-and-mouth.

“The FAO and OIE are promoting a co-ordinated approach across the world using effective diagnostics, vaccines and other control measures – many of which were developed here at Pirbright.”

Dr Hammond plans to use the funds to create a dedicated team at Pirbright that will focus on delivering the aims of the global foot-and-mouth disease control strategy.

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK in 2001 caused a crisis in British agriculture and tourism. Nearly 6.5 million sheep, cattle and pigs were slaughtered to control the disease, which causes blisters and lameness in farm animals.

Economists have estimated that the outbreak cost the UK economy at least £8bn. Global losses to foot-and-mouth are estimated at $5bn (£3.2bn) a year.

The IAH said the potential impact on food security of another of foot-and-mouth outbreak would be “enormous”, particularly at a time when consumption of animal protein is rising and the global population is set to reach nine billion by 2050.

“We are, however, fortunate in being currently foot-and-mouth free,” added Dr Hammond.

Bryan Charleston, head of IAH’s livestock viral disease programme, said the ultimate aim was to provide a cheap and effective vaccine that farmers could use to prevent foot-and-mouth in their animals.

“We hope that during the lifetime of this initiative we will be in a position to provide just such a vaccine.”

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