THE NATIONAL Audit Office has warned that DEFRA must do more to ensure it is ready for another foot-and-mouth outbreak.

In a report published on Wednesday (Feb 2), the NAO said the disease was still common in many parts of the world and high levels of international trade and travel meant that another outbreak was possible at any time.

Sir John Bourn, NAO comptroller and auditor general, said the 2001 outbreak had been devastating for farmers and the rural community.

“Continued vigilance is essential,” he said. “DEFRA is now much better prepared than in 2001, but it still has work to complete.”

The NAO report said preparedness for an outbreak was much improved in terms of contingency planning, training and availability of vaccines.

DEFRA”s disease control strategy was also better documented and further research into disease control strategies was under way, it said. But the report pointed out that IT systems needed work and the government had still not worked out a new cull compensation system.

Scientific opinion on the relative effectiveness of vaccination and continuous culling also remained divided, which could cause problems.

“DEFRA has significantly increased stocks of vaccines and in future will be able to begin vaccination within five days of an outbreak. But the decision to vaccinate would have to be taken in the face of many uncertainties.”

Another problem to address was how to ensure that people outside central government embraced the contingency plan, said the NAO.

“More work is needed to engage with local authorities and others to facilitate a co-ordinated and co-operative approach.”