UK animal health officials have received a ringing endorsement from Barry O’Neil, deputy director general of MAF Biosecurity New Zealand and president of the World Organisation for Animal Health OIE.

“I am not sure any other country in the world would be able to handle two foot-and-mouth outbreaks as well as you have done, and all credit to Defra for that,” he told an audience of leading livestock industry figures in London.

Answering a question about the risk of malicious release of animal diseases, he said it was an issue for countries with significant agricultural production and such “bioterrorism” needed to be guarded against. “We do need to have disease surveillance in place to detect the unexpected, and I think the UK is very well placed on that.”

A recent threatened release of foot-and-mouth in New Zealand highlighted the need for swift action. “It proved to be a hoax, but it took a huge amount of energy and effort, because we had to be completely transparent with our trading partners and had to put in place the restrictions and testing and close down the island. Thankfully, we had a very mature and professional response from the majority of our trading partners.”

* This is the third article in a special FWi mini-series profiling OIE President Barry O’Brien’s speech in London on Tuesday 20 May 2008.

Next article: “Vets run short” appears Wednesday 28 May.