What lessons have we learnt for the future?
Position of the Dutch Farmers’ Union LTO-Nederland regarding the future prevention and control of FMD
M.P. Cuijpers, K.J. Osinga
Dutch Farmers’ Union “Land- en Tuinbouworganisatie Nederland” (LTO-Nederland), PO Box 29773, 2502 LT, The Hague, Netherlands
Foot and mouth disease has devastated Dutch animal husbandry frequently in the past and constitutes still a threat. The use of vaccination brought the number of outbreaks down in the Netherlands in the twentieth century. However, the wish of some member states of the European Community not to use vaccination, led to a new strategy based on stamping out of infected and contagious farms and on strict transportation regulations. In 2001, this proved very disruptive to the wider rural economy like the recreational sector/tourism and it caused severe animal welfare problems and psychological problems among farmers and their families. This raised questions about the wider (not veterinarian/agricultural) implications of control strategies of FMDV. The technology seems to be in place for a return to the use of protective vaccination against FMDV during an outbreak, provided OIE and European Commission recognise the use of discriminatory tests like the 3 ABC Elisa for use in individual animals. High potency vaccines should be used for build-up of sufficient immunity within 3-4 days. The whole dairy and meat chain must bear responsibility for the marketing of animal products produced in areas hit by FMDV. The human dimension of any FMD outbreak must be dealt with sufficiently in any contingency plan.
Foot and mouth disease, vaccination, Netherlands, farming perspective
Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a highly infectious viral disease of all cloven-hoofed animals (Kitching, 1992). The disease was probably first described as an epidemic in 1514 and the agent responsible was first identified in 1897, as the result of research done by Löffler and Frosch at the request of the German government (Löffler, 1897; Markus, 1888). FMD is still prevalent in many parts of the world, as emphasised by the 2001 epidemics in the European Union, Southern Africa, Asia and South America. Due to the loss of productivity and the infectious nature of the disease, an outbreak of FMD can have very serious economic consequences, including damage to international meat and livestock trade.
The Land- en Tuinbouw Organisatie Nederland (“LTO-Nederland” or in short “LTO”)) is the main Dutch farmers’ union. Its membership comprises around 60,000, representing about 70% of the Dutch farmers and around 80% of the production volume at the farm gate. The Dutch agricultural industry relies very much on international trade, with its export value for living animals and animal products totalling around 3 billion Euro and its dairy export value totalling around 5.6 billion Euro. Over 95% of the Dutch meat exports remain within the European Union.
Recent history of FMD in the Netherlands and surrounding countries
FMD, in Dutch called ‘mond en klauwzeer’, has struck frequently in the Netherlands during the last decade of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, as is shown in table I (Bekkum, 1987). During 1937 and 1938, the disease spread across large parts of the European continent. This resulted in 379,000 and 704,000 cases in France and Germany, respectively (Röhrer and Olechnowitz, 1980).
number of outbreaks
Around the 1940s, the use of vaccination as a tool to prevent the spread of FMD became more common. In the Netherlands, on-farm vaccination was first carried out in the province of Friesland in 1942. This proved successful, and the use of a bivalent vaccine against FMD types A and O gradually increased, until in 1951 half the cattle population was vaccinated against FMD annually. Because of outbreaks of FMD type C during 1951-1953 in Western Europe, the Dutch veterinary authorities switched to the production of trivalent vaccine using the so-called method of Frenkel. Since this period until 1992, all cattle older than 4-6 months were vaccinated annually against the FMD types A, O and C (Bekkum, 1987; Bekkum, 2001). This resulted in a dramatic change of pattern of the disease (figure 1).
Approximate number of foot and mouth outbreaks in the Netherlands between 1936 and 2000. Annual vaccination started in 1953, as indicated by the arrow. Source: website ID-Lelystad, as accessed on 8 December 2001.
Across the European Community (nowadays European Union) the number of outbreaks went down, and there were even periods without any outbreak of FMD. Such was the case between 1996 and 2000 (outbreak of FMD type Asia 1 in Greece). Even in EU-member states like the United Kingdom where vaccination was not practised, the number of outbreaks went down dramatically (table II).
Number of outbreaks of foot and mouth in the United Kingdom, 1957-2001 (Mowat, 1987, DEFRA, 2001)
2 (Jersey & Isle of Wight)
2001 (as of 15 December)
Generally, this was believed to be the result of the changes in control policies, thanks to the much better understanding of the pathogenesis and transmission of the disease, and to the use of preventive vaccination in many countries, and the use of stamping out, which is to prevent the spread of FMD by the immediate killing and destruction of (possibly) infected animals (in the UK also called: “pre-emptive cull”).
Since 1985, the procedures any EU member state should adopt to respond to an outbreak of FMD were laid out in detail in a European Community directive 85/511/EEC. Amongst other things, the Directive introduced the establishment by member states of so-called protection zones and surveillance zones around infected premises based on a minimum radius of 3 and 10 km respectively, taking account of natural boundaries and supervision facilities (Council of the European Communities, 1985).
The wish of the EU member states at the time to arrive at one internal European market made a uniform FMD control policy imperative. As explained before, some EU member states did not apply annual compulsory preventive vaccination. Apart from the United Kingdom, these countries were Denmark, Greece (with the exception of the eastern region of Thrace) and the Republic of Ireland. It is generally believed these countries pushed for the cessation of compulsory preventive vaccination against FMD (Umans and Deleu, 2001). In the Netherlands, however, a study based on an epidemiological model and an export model showed it to be financially profitable to cease annual vaccination of the cattle herd and this also made the Dutch government support the cessation of annual vaccination (Berentsen et al, 1990).
Therefore a new directive, 90/423/EEC, amended the legislation standing until then (Council of the European Communities, 1990). This directive, still in force nowadays, ended compulsory prophylactic vaccination of cattle against foot and mouth disease. From then on, the measures to control possible outbreaks and eliminate the virus should it gain entry were based on the strategy of killing infected herds with appropriate disposal of potentially infective material (“stamping out”) and controlling the movements of live animals, meat, meat products, milk, milk products, animal by-products, persons, vehicles, farm fomites and any other substance liable to transmit the disease. However, as this strategy alone might not be sufficient to eradicate the virus Council Directive 90/423 permits the use of emergency vaccination, as an adjunct to the control and eradication measures. In this sense, a distinction is made between suppressive and protective vaccination. Protective emergency vaccination is being used to create an immune zone and to protect the animals within the area being vaccinated against airborne infection from the infected area. Suppressive vaccination, on the other side, is carried out in conjunction with a pre-emptive slaughter policy in a known foot and mouth disease area where it is considered that there is an urgent need to reduce the amount of virus circulating and the risk of spread beyond the area (Panina et al, 1999).
The new directive also obliges the EU member states to draw up contingency plans, specifying the national measures to be implemented in the event of an outbreak of FMD. Such a plan, approved by the Dutch Chief Veterinary Officer on 20 September 1996, was available during the FMD epidemic of 2001 in the Netherlands (Anonymous, 1996).
The new policy was effective in eradicating FMD in Italy in 1993 and in Greece in 1994 and 1996 (Panina et al, 1999). World-wide however, FMD continued to show up until date (table III).
Outbreaks of FMD in various countries and their causes (Anonymous, 2001b).
Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia
Beef on the bone form areas infected with FMD
Thrace (European Turkey), Greece, Bulgaria
Carried across borders
Taiwan (free of FMD for 60 years)
Illegal import of pigs / pork, inadequate control (delayed diagnosis, vaccine not available)
Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia
Carried in with animals and products of animal origin from West Africa
Japan (free of FMD for 98 years)
Probably import of infected rice straw
South Korea (free of FMD for 66 years)
Probably import of infected rice straw
Illegal imports from Paraguay
Not fully explained
Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil
United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Ireland
Probably infected waste in animal feed
The OIE-web side shows that over 30 countries have reported outbreaks of FMD in 2001. Therefore it seems safe to conclude that FMD presents a continuing threat of reintroduction to the EU or even the Netherlands.
The 2001 outbreak from the Dutch farmers’ perspective
On the morning of Monday 19 February 2001, a veterinary surgeon working for the UK government’s Meat Hygiene Service at Cheale Meats abattoir in Little Warley in Essex, found pigs carrying blisters. This was the start of the foot and mouth epidemic in the EU of 2001. For easy reference, table IV presents a concise summary of what happened in the Netherlands, and of the main actions undertaken by LTO-Nederland.
Chronology of main events and actions regarding the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 in the Netherlands (Anonymous, 2001a).
Action undertaken by LTO
Signs of FMD found in Essex
UK government informs European Commission of two outbreaks of FMD in pigs within a slaughterhouse (21:30).
European Commission imposes world-wide ban on all exports from Britain of livestock, meat and animal products
LTO assigns various tasks within organisation in preparation for possible FMD outbreak in Netherlands.
LTO decides that everything possible needs to be done to keep FMD out and advises the Dutch Agricultural minister along this line.
Dutch government closes down all animal markets
UK government prohibits the movement of all susceptible livestock throughout Great Britain.
Pre emptive cull carried out on 11 Dutch farms identified as having recently imported animals from the UK at its premises.
Northern Ireland reports its first outbreak of FMD (three more outbreaks are reported on 13/4, 15/4 and 22/4)
French government reports first FMD outbreak (Mayenne)
All animal movement in the Netherlands prohibited (movement of sheep and goats had been prohibited on 26/2)
17/3 and 19/3
Suspicion of FMD at two farms. All suspected animals all killed and destroyed immediately. Serological tests are carried out.
First FMD case confirmed in the Netherlands.
Dutch government imposes 72 hour standstill, which includes no collection of milk (at the request of LTO).
LTO sets up crisis centres in its main office and its five regional offices.
LTO strongly advises minister of agriculture to do whatever needed to eradicate the FMD virus.
LTO strongly advises minister stop the collection of milk during the 72 hour standstill.
21/3 – 26/4
26 cases of FMD confirmed in the Netherlands, of which two cases in the province of Friesland, and 24 cases in the region of Zwolle, Deventer and Apeldoorn.
Around all infected premises and suspected premises protection zones (3 km radius) and surveillance zones (additional 10 km radius) are set up.
All animals on infected premises are culled within 24 hours. Animals on premises within a 2 km radius are culled too.
Total standstill imposed in all protection and surveillance zones.
LTO operates around 100 telephone lines answering
thousands of calls for information and advise every day. About 20% of the incoming calls are not from LTO members.
LTO operates an FMD internet information site receiving up to 5,000 visitors per day.
LTO distributes around 100 FMD newsletters by Email to its membership, sometimes twice of thrice daily.
Ireland reports its only outbreak of FMD.
Netherlands requests suppressive vaccination, partly because of fear of shortage of culling capacity soon. Allowed by Standing Veterinary Commission (SVC) on 23/3.
France reports its second and last confirmed outbreak of FMD.
LTO decides that it wants the current ‘non vaccination’ policy to be changed, in order to be able to vaccinate animals and let them live out their economic life, without serious implications for trade. LTO informs the minister of Agriculture and the press about its decision.
Netherlands requests protective emergency vaccination for the area between the towns of Zwolle, Deventer and Apeldoorn.
SVC allows Netherlands to perform protective emergency vaccination of cattle prohibiting the movement of vaccinated cattle for a period of at last a year. Dutch government reads this as follows: empty farms within in the vaccination zone and the surrounding surveillance zone cannot be restocked during at least one year following the completion of vaccination.
The Dutch minister of agriculture asks LTO’s advice on whether to perform suppressive or protective vaccination in the area between Zwolle, Apeldoorn and Deventer
After much internal discussion, LTO decides there is no real choice to be made, as the conditions of the SVC, as read by the Dutch government, will force all farmers in the vaccination zone and the surrounding 10 km surveillance zone to go out of business, because they will not be able to restock their farm during at least one year. LTO is also of the opinion that it is not advisable to seal off the vaccination and surveillance zones during at least one year because of the costs involved and because this will cause too much inconvenience to the general public.
Therefore on 10/4, LTO, with the dairy industry and the meat-processing industry, advises the Dutch Agricultural minister to go ahead with suppressive vaccination.
Dutch governments divides its country into six ‘zones’ or ‘compartments’, prohibiting animal transport between zones, including transport to slaughterhouses. Inside of all protection and surveillance zones a total standstill is in place. Only milk is being collected and processed through channels kept strictly separate from the main production streams.
LTO continuously advises the Dutch government on the practicalities and details of the implementation of all measures concerning the combat of FMD.
Suppressive vaccination carried out in the area between the towns of Zwolle, Deventer and Apeldoorn, and in the two 2-km zones in Friesland. All vaccinated animals are subsequently killed.
26th and last case of FMD in the Netherlands
1500th outbreak of FMD in the UK
Last vaccinated animal in the Netherlands killed, leading to a total number of 265,000 animals killed because of FMD.
LTO gradually reducing its crisis facilities as the demand for information and policy making diminishes.
Discussion in Dutch parliament on EU proposal to allow Argentina and Uruguay to resume beef exports to the EU.
LTO uses argument to push for acceptance of protective emergency vaccinations in the EU.
OIE declares that Netherlands has regained its status “FMD free without vaccination”.
2030th and last case of FMD in the UK (as of 15 December 2001)
What cannot be reflected by table 1, is the enormous strain put on the Dutch farmers and their families and friends, the people working in the delivering and processing industries and all the people living in the areas directly affected by FMD. The killing of so many animals, the large majority (probably over 90%, according to personal information by Mr. Füssel, DG SANCO of the European Commission) not being infected by FMD, led to much discussion in the general press and in the Dutch parliament, and to much public opposition against stamping out. A number of local action groups sprang up, campaigning for the slaughter-only policy to be ceased immediately. This caused also much discussion within the regional LTO-departments. When LTO was actually in pains to try to explain her policy to its membership and the wider public, where the Dutch government clearly failed at some points in explaining her own actions, LTO became at some instances the main scapegoat and therefore a focus for criticism. In short: the 2001 FMD-epidemic resulted in a very stressful period for LTO.
Much discussion has been going on about the source of the 2001 epidemic. Leaving aside the source of the epidemic in the UK, which our British colleagues no doubt will be dealing with in this OIE publication, we now think that the most likely route of infection was the import of Irish fattening calves via an FMD contaminated staging point at Mayenne in France. These calves were transported to a farm in the village of Oene, showed no signs of FMD themselves, but passed the virus on to goats that became clinically sick. The farmer concerned had been ill recently and had received help from colleagues. That is probably how the virus was able to spread.
It is still unclear however, how the virus spread to the province of Friesland, about 200 km up north. We know that from the early times there have been thoughts that infection can be transmitted on the wind. In the earliest knows description of foot and mouth disease, Fracastorius (1546) writing of an earlier outbreak in Northern Italy commented: ‘Now of these contagions which come from without, the air is potent cause, though they may also come from water and marshes and other sources’. This is quite remarkable, given the level of knowledge of transmissible diseases at the time (Mowat, 1987). Subsequently over the years there have been reports speculating that, since no other mechanism of transmission could be identified, the only conclusion left was that the virus had arrived on the wind. After the major 1967/68 outbreak in the UK, investigations into the airborne spread of virus were made and it became clear that transmission by the route was indeed possible under certain circumstances. Because of the existence of a rendering plant in Friesland, where animals from FMD hit areas were destroyed, accusations went out that smoke from this plant was the reason for the Friesland outbreak. The Dutch Institute for Animal Science and Health in Lelystad, however, maintain that meteorological data do not fit any theory that the virus was spread aerogenically. The reason for the outbreak in Friesland must therefore lie in the illegal transport of animals, although not the slightest prove of this has been found until date.
Many scientists have stressed the importance of the control of movement of animals during the first stage of an outbreak. Sellers et al (1977) suggest control of movement for two weeks after contact with infection as a means of preventing spread of foot and mouth disease in areas that contain vaccinated animals. Reports from the UK however suggest that only four days after the first FMD case was confirmed, the UK government prohibited the transport of animals throughout the whole of Britain. This might have contributed strongly to the spread of the disease all down the west side of Britain.
Since April 2001, LTO has been pressing for a change to the current ‘non vaccination policy of the European Commission, so that a protective emergency vaccination can be applied with main repercussions for international trade outside of the surveillance and protection zones. This resulted in LTO becoming involved in veterinary discussions about the possible danger of carrier animals spreading the virus, and therefore the implication for international trade vaccination might have.
We think however, that the decrease in outbreaks in the UK since the 1950s has not only been caused by the strict stamping out policy in place at that time. The UK, and also Denmark and Ireland have been protected by a buffer zone created by those EU-member states that carried out compulsory annual vaccination. Since 1992, this buffer zone had been removed when the immunity of the vaccinated animals wore off. Looking at the open border policy of the European Commission and the general increase in traffic across the globe, we have probably only been lucky that we stayed clear of FMDV for almost another decade.
Since the 1960s it has been known that animals might continue to harbour the FMD virus after 28 days after infection. Such animals are called carrier animals as they carry the virus in the soft palate from where it can be isolated in oropharyngeal fluid (OPF) samples collected with a probang cup. Animals are particularly vulnerable to becoming carrier during the period following vaccination during which immunity develops (Sutmoller, personal information). Much discussion is going on between scientists whether such animals are able to spread the virus. This has never been proven in research, and there is only circumstantial evidence from two cases in Zimbabwe in 1989 and 1991 regarding the possible transfer of FMD virus from non-vaccinated African Buffalo populations to incomplete vaccinated cattle populations (Thompson, 1997). To us it seems pretty unfair to compare such an example to a situation in the EU, where no farm animals are vaccinated and only limited emergency vaccinations may be carried out at some time in the future.
Above all, the risk of carrier animals spreading virus is in any case very small. For example, Moonen (2000) was not able to succeed in transferring FMD virus from 17 vaccinated cattle (using 1/1 ; 1/4 ; 1/16 of the normal vaccine dose). These animals were challenged within three weeks and all developed a high antibody level, but did not infect a sentinel animal put in after three months during a period of two years. Such findings are confirmed by other scientists (Sutmoller, 2001, personal information).
Donaldson and Kitching (1989) indicate that when three weeks elapse between the time of primo-vaccination and natural exposure to virus the quantity of infection emitted by immunised cattle immediately afterwards is unlikely to result in the transmission of infection, even to animals in very close contact. A two-week period from vaccination to challenge did not result in spread of disease immediately afterwards, but in two of four in-contact cattle became subclinically infected, suggesting that the quantity of virus excreted was very low.
It seems therefore important to use vaccines that cause animals to develop immunity rapidly in order to keep the period during which animals remain susceptible to infection limited to a minimum. According to Mr David King, the so-called IVB vaccines can build up sufficient immunity within three to four days. IVB vaccines are held at the institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, Surrey, UK (King, 2001). Other (commercial) vaccines need 10-12 days. The longer the time between vaccination and exposure to infection, the more effectively animals are protected against FMD.
Although evidence suggest that the risk of carrier animals spreading FMD is almost non existent, the implications of protective vaccination for trade are still very severe, especially for an exporting country like the Netherlands. In fact these implications do have much more impact on international trade than the use of stamping out, and this is what currently is influencing the political discussion, and in which scientific opinions are either used or left out, whatever is more convenient to the parties concerned.
This game became highly political in the Netherlands around the end of May 2001, when discussion arose on if and when Uruguay and Argentina were to be allowed to resume export of beef to the EU again. Both countries had suffered their own hardship of FMD in 2001 and resolved to vaccinate their cattle herds. This seemed unfair on the part of the Dutch farmers, who had to endure stamping out for the sake of their own export. In November 2001 however, Uruguay was allowed to resume its beef exports to the EU again.
While animal husbandry in South America is very different from the Dutch situation, and only certain parts of the carcasses are exported to the EU using slaughtering procedures that eliminate any chance that this meat may be FMDV contaminated, the Dutch farmers have a case here. The case of Uruguay proves the trade issue is not so much about the perceived dangers of vaccination, but mainly about the trading value of the animal products concerned. The South American example shows that vaccination against FMD should not endanger export, as long as good procedures are in place. These include using of a discriminating test.
The ELISA test based on discrimination for the polypeptide 3ABC currently can be used for distinguishing vaccinated animals from infected animals. A minority of protected animals which develop a carrier state, proven by intermittent recovery of virus, does not respond to this test, or to other NSP. But the NSP test has been used extensively in several countries and has proven a valuable instrument for detecting viral activity, irrespective of the vaccination status. The results obtained contributed to support the OIE requirements for recognition of free areas in South America, and gave input to assessments of risk analysis during import/export testing (Brocchi, 2001).
LTO therefore understands the importance of the OIE and the European Commission recognising a differentiating test for distinguishing between infected and vaccinated animals in the EU. To our information (Bianchi, personal information, 2001), 3ABC ELISA tests are currently under scientific review. The OIE describes one of these tests for use on a herd or group basis in its 2000 manual. To the opinion of LTO, the development of commercially available test kits is now important, but this will only happen if the OIE and EU are ready to recognise one or more of these tests for official use in single animals.
FMD prevention and control apart from vaccination
Apart from the discussion about vaccination and stamping out, there is no major international difference of opinion about the need for measures to prevent new outbreaks. The following preventive actions should be taken:
- To impose stringent import control measures, including strict precautions and procedures at cross border entry points for animals and animal products
- To limit the movement of animals in transportation time and distance. The use of staging points is a critical issue that must be further evaluated.
- To increase the awareness in both the agricultural and the tourist industry on how animal diseases are spread, and what can be done to minimise risks. Increased awareness may be the key to the prevention of new outbreaks of FMD. One may think of the distribution of leaflets in planes, on trains and ferries that inform travellers of possible risks. On farms we see a need for good hygiene rules taking into account both animal and public health aspects.
- Within the EU, to introduce identification systems in all EU-member states that help to monitor animal movements, enabling veterinary services to quickly trace back animal movements and to track producers and traders in case of an outbreak. Farmers need to pay special attention to all live animals entering his or her farm.
- There is an absolute need for national research institutes and veterinary services to co-operate in the development of diagnostic tools and criteria to be used
- It is important that all countries of the world co-operate in the control of FMDV by reporting all their outbreaks immediately and fully, by maintaining sufficiently well resourced veterinary services by themselves (or with support from other countries), enabling these services to use internationally recognised procedures regarding diagnostics and vaccines.
Apart from the issue of vaccination, it is essential that during an outbreak:
- Research institutes and veterinary services should co-operate in the identification of suspected cases and in possible vaccination. Within the EU, these procedures must be part of an EU-wide contingency plan, in which a reference laboratory plays a key role. Institutes and veterinary service must share information fully and immediately if an outbreak occurs.
- Very rapid decision making by the competent bodies is vital. This includes the imposure of a standstill immediately after the first find of FMD.
- Essential is that everybody in the industry co-operates in the containment and elimination of the virus through alertness and through the implementation of a range of bio-security measures that may also affect farm-to-farm movements of animals, vehicles and people
- A compensation package must be in place for those farmers affected by an outbreak.
Speed and accuracy are the key words to be used during an FMD outbreak. This has been shown in many times in the past, for example in Taiwan in 1997 ( Howard and Donnelly, 2000).
The economic dimension
As we have said before, a Dutch study based on an epidemiological model and an export model showed it to be financially profitable to cease annual vaccination of the cattle herd in 1992. This made the Dutch government support the cessation of annual vaccination in the then European Community (Berentsen et al, 1990). Since then, the University of Wageningen has continued to investigate economic aspects of FMD prevention and control (Nielen et al, 2001). Taking a much closer look at the 1990 study, LTO is of opinion that it did not include the 2-km ring cull. This has led to many more farms being pre-emptied than expected in 1990. Of even greater financial impact, however, is the effect FMD-control policies have on tourism, the recreational sector and the wider rural economy, which was also not taken into account. New studies seem to indicate a more favourable position for the use of emergency vaccination, but only if the punishment for letting vaccinated animals living out their normal economic lives is not too severe. At current OIE regulations however, protective vaccination is most of the times still not a financial viable option, as the zones concerned need to wait 12 months after vaccination has ceased before acquiring again the status ‘FMD free zone where vaccination is not practised’ (Vallat, 2001). As long as this waiting period is not shortened, protective emergency vaccination will not easily be applied on economic grounds only.
Organisations involved in the trade of animal products, like the dairy co-operatives and meat processing industries, must be made responsible for the marketing of products produced in areas hit by FMDV, in order to limit the loss of income of farmers living here. The role of the food chain should be clearly defined in any contingency plan dealing with the control of an FMD outbreak, because it is also very much in the interest of these organisations to eradicate any FMD outbreaks and the marketing problems that come with it as quickly as possible. Any remaining financial loss should be compensated by the government(s) concerned, to ensure the co-operation of these farmers with the control policies. Governments must be aware that also arable farmers and nurseries may be hit by an outbreak of FMDV, especially if these businesses depend on export.
The animal welfare dimension
Animal welfare organisations have stated it is widely accepted to keep animals for farming purposes, as long they are treated and handled with care (Larsson, 2001). The society also accepts slaughter of animals for meat production. Many governments have implemented rules that govern animal husbandry. When an animal is killed is not so important, as long as the killing is carried out in a way that is fulfilling all demands that come from welfare aspects. Regarding stamping out, however, many people are of the opinion that it is unethical to kill animals that have a great chance of not being FMDV infected, when alternatives for the control of FMDV are available.
The ecological aspect
The 2001 epidemic in the Netherlands resulted in discussions about the cull of pedigree animals, zoo animals and of animals living in nature reserves. An even larger scale pre-emptive cull might have led to endangering rare species, rare breeds and animal stock of special quality. LTO has concluded that, while the quickest eradication of FMD has the highest priority, a slaughter-only policy may lead to the extinction of rare breeds, high genetic stock and endangered species.
The human dimension
Amid all the words on science, economics and animal welfare, a few words must be said on the human aspect here. In 2001, hundreds of European farmers and their families had to stay on-farm for weeks on end, while anxiously waiting for what might come next. A number of them saw their livestock taken away from them. When the veterinary slaughter force finally moved on, all disinfecting and paperwork done, the farmer family stayed behind, dismayed, trying to come to grips with what actually happened. LTO very strongly feels that any contingency plan must include psychological help for those farmers and their families directly hit by the virus and/or the measures implemented to stop its spread. Any strategy for the control of FMDV must strive to minimise the amount of stress and sorrow brought about the farmers and their families.
If epidemiology is about the incidence, the mechanisms of spread and understanding the life cycle of the infective agent, then control is very much concerned with how to break into that life cycle and so prevent propagation of the organism and continuance of the disease. Vaccination might during an outbreak be one of the tools doing exactly that. Therefore LTO Nederland proposes the use of protective emergency vaccinations as an effective method to combat foot-and-mouth-disease in the future. This includes the use of internationally recognised diagnostic tests and vaccines that cause the build-up of sufficient immunity within a few days. This will eradicate the virus within weeks and allow the vaccinated animals to complete their working lives and the marketing of their products in specially designed regions or compartments within the EU. The idea ends the current slaughter-only policy in the E.U.
Reasons for LTO’s position are:
- continuation of the current slaughter-only policy is ethically unacceptable, both regarding animals and their owners. A rigorous culling policy does have very serious social consequences: control of FMD is not only a technical challenge.
- The current FMD control policy is clearly not without cost to tourism and businesses in the wider rural economy.
- The slaughter-only policy can result in the extinction of rare breeds, high genetic quality stock and endangered species
- In the case of a large outbreak, the current culling capacity of the veterinary and rendering services of the EU member states very quickly become over stretched. This favours new infections, because FMD can be infectious days before clinical signs develop.
- The duration of new outbreaks can be curtailed within some weeks, and the costs of FMDV outbreaks can be reduced greatly. This should allow the OIE to, on the base of sound science, considerably shorten the waiting period until the vaccination zone may return to the status of ‘FMD free without vaccination’. Moreover, this method is ethically acceptable, while still being a rational response to an exceptionally infective disease, which continues to be found in many places around the world.
Apart from vaccination, other important preventive measures are:
- Strict control and limitation of animal movements
- Increased awareness in both the agricultural and the international tourist industry on the spread of animal diseases.
- Introduction of international identification and registration of animals
- Close cross-border co-operation between national research institutes and veterinary services
- All stake holders must be sufficiently involved in the write up of contingency plans.
During an outbreak, it is essential that:
- Research institutes co-operate fully on all matter regarding the control of the outbreak
- The competent bodies make their decisions very rapidly
- Everybody in the industry must co-operate in the containment and elimination of the virus. Industries must make an effort to help market products coming from the crisis areas.
- Farmers get compensated for their losses caused by FMD. They and their families should receive psychological support if they wish.
- Because of all the dimensions involved in the eradication of FMD, it is clear that the control of FMD does also involve very good public relations management.
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Internet sites used for references
- OIE (Office International des Epizooties). 14 November 2001. www.oie.int.
- Institute for Animal Science and Health ID-Lelystad. 4 December 2001. www.id.wageningen-ur.nl