26 October 2001

Bio-security is critical to avoid F&M comeback

A return of foot-and-mouth disease, countering unnecessary

regulation and challenging consumer perception were

issues discussed at this weeks National Office of

Animal Health annual conference at Ettington, Warks.

Simon Wragg reports

FOOT-AND-MOUTH disease could re-emerge despite the recent tailing off of new cases, the president of the Sheep Veterinary Society, Jason Barley, has warned.

This prolonged threat underlined the need for producers to continue to observe bio-security measures and remain vigilant, he said.

Although there were seven serotypes of F&M, an extra 50-60 sub-types complicated control of the disease – particularly by vaccination – Mr Barley told delegates. "This has a definite effect on how or where we may now stand regarding the ability of animals to withstand or have immunity against further attack."

Although vets were initially hampered by a lack of lab capacity to process serology tests, Mr Barley suggested 70% of sheep slaughtered due to fears they had been exposed to virus were confirmed with F&M.

The blood testing programme gave vets a 95% chance of picking up 5% infection. But lower infection levels could exist and producers must still act diligently to limit risks over the coming weeks, he added.

"This coincides with a period when many sheep must be moved for management and welfare reasons," said Mr Barley.

One remaining concern was of shepherds, machinery and equipment moving between groups of sheep on different grazing areas and spreading virus unwittingly.

"It can be impossible to keep all equipment clean while moving around, but every effort must be made to reduce risk of spreading disease through local contact.

"With each week that passes, we get closer to that Holy Grail of having three months clear and then we can start looking to export once more."

Even when that was achieved, some observers may want to leave a number of controls in place, such as movements by licence. But legislators must be careful not to burden the sheep industry with a set of controls which were both impractical and costly in the long term, he warned.

"We must leave it to individual producers to take control of bio-security rather than have a cumbersome national programme."

The mistakes made in the handling of F&M should never be repeated, he added.

Essential facilities used to tackle F&M should remain on stand-by indefinitely rather than closed away if an outbreak of the current magnitude was to be avoided in future, said Mr Barley. &#42

Legislators must not burden the sheep industry with impractical regulations, says Jason Barley.

AVOIDING F&M IN FUTURE

&#8226 Many F&M sub-types.

&#8226 Maintain bio-security.

&#8226 Fight impractical legislation.