21 December 2001

F&Mjab test guide is vital

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

TESTS to distinguish animals that have been vaccinated against foot-and-mouth and those carrying the disease must be validated as quickly as possible if another crisis is to be avoided.

The disease could strike again with equally devastating effect and the EU would be no better equipped to deal with it, Eurogroup for Animal Welfare director David Wilkins told an F&M conference in Brussels last week.

There may not be time to wait for the International Office of Epizootics in Paris to validate the new tests and amend its trade rules, he warned, so the EU should consider using them anyway.

But EU food safety commissioner David Byrne said jumping the gun would be unwise. "We might be creating a risk by allowing some animals to survive that have been vaccinated, but are also infective. Some countries have discovered infected animals in vaccinated herds."

Vaccination was already an option in the EUs defence strategy, and had been used effectively in Holland, he said.

But OIE rules forbid regions using vaccination to export meat for three months after the last case of F&M, even if the treated livestock is slaughtered. That goes up to 12 months if the animals are allowed to live. Mr Byrne said: "You have to make a choice. Do you put the trade implications first or the ethical considerations?"

Junior DEFRA minister Alun Michael acknowledged there was a need to avoid mass slaughterings in the future and vaccination could play a part. "We need better testing, purer vaccines and better trade rules under which to operate," he said. The OIE should fast-track its validation process and liberalise its rules governing the periods required to regain F&M-free status.

OIE chairman Romano Marabelli confirmed his organisation was working on this. New scientific evidence would be assessed next summer and, in the light of these findings, there could be some reduction in the time vaccinating countries were excluded from export markets.

But the priority was for governments to improve surveillance. "We have to use this period of quiet to increase our vigilance." &#42

&#8226 F&M has cost the UK over k10bn (£6bn), David Thompson, director of economics at DEFRA, told the conference. Half of this was attributed to the farm sector, with k4bn (£2.5bn) of taxpayers money used as compensation. But leisure and tourism took an estimated k5-6bn (£3.4bn) hit. A survey showed that 30% of potential countryside visitors changed their plans between March and May 2001. &#42

Be careful… food safety commissioner David Byrne urged caution.