Step up import controls

19 October 2001

Step up import controls

By Shelley Wright

TERRORISM is not restricted to attacks on buildings or individuals. There is a real risk of attacks on large swathes of the population through food supplies, the British Veterinary Association has warned.

The frightening experience of anthrax-contaminated mail in the USA, and the resulting worldwide panic, was a prime example of the threat of biological terrorism, BVA past-president David Tyson told guests at an association dinner in Edinburgh this week.

"The horrific events in America point to a much wider dimension concerning the need for adequate controls on diseased imported food," he said.

And, although the BVA has been approached by the Meat Hygiene Service, which has launched a review of the whole process of meat inspection, Mr Tyson called for an additional and urgent government review of the conditions of import controls.

Greater consideration must also be given to the economic benefits of home-production, Mr Tyson said.

Turning to the lessons to be learned from the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, Mr Tyson said it was clear that an integrated national veterinary service was needed. "Fragmentation let us all down," he said.

While the disease was spreading rapidly, MAFF was recruiting veterinary manpower slowly. "The call up was voluntary and the response was low key until the realisation of a national catastrophe," he added.

"A completely new approach for the deployment of private sector veterinarians is, without question, called for. Government needs vets and vets need government to ensure joined-up publicly funded animal health work."

Leslie Gardner, Scotlands chief vet, agreed. Much greater collaboration between private vets and the State Veterinarian Service was needed, to tackle disease outbreaks and improve national disease surveillance, he said.

Mr Tyson also warned that, although eradication of foot-and-mouth disease was well on course, the "weakness inherent in farming could still relight the fire".

And he warned the sheep sector in particular had to consider the value of animal identification against the cost of production.

"The very fact we dont know where sheep are is wholly unacceptable. The whole complex movement of animals to control disease is diminished if traceability founders," Mr Tyson said. &#42

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