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IRISH Minister for Agriculture and Food, Joe Walsh, hosted an event in Dublin to mark the 50th anniversary of the European Foot-and-Mouth Disease Commission.

This group was established in 1954 under the aegis of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. It has 33 members and plays a vital role in:

* maintaining preparedness and expertise in member countries to deal with FMD outbreaks;

* assisting with FMD control initiatives in neighbouring countries;

* providing information on the global FMD situation; and,

* assessing the risk of introduction of FMD from different parts of the world. Ireland has a long-standing connection with the Commission, being among the six founder Nations and, indeed, the first chairperson of the Commission was the late J C Nagle, who subsequently served as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

This remarkable connection continues today, through Paddy Rogan, Ireland's Chief Veterinary Officer, whose late father, Patrick A Rogan, also served as Chief Veterinary Officer and was among the founding members of the Commission.

Among the Dublin gathering were some of the foremost global experts on Foot-and-Mouth Disease and representatives from the 33 members of the Commission.

Mr Walsh presented a number of awards to various individuals in recognition of contributions made in the fields of vaccination, diagnosis and epidemiology.

The Minister said that, at a time when the events surrounding the Foot-and-Mouth Disease outbreak of 2001 were fresh in the minds of the Irish public, he was pleased to mark this occasion in recognition of the achievements of an organisation which had played such a vital role in the eradication of endemic FMD in Europe.

He said that, while much had been learned by EU Member States in the aftermath of the FMD crisis of 2001, the Footand-Mouth Disease Commission continued to make a critical contribution, both in maintaining and preserving Europe's high animal health status, and in assisting in the control and eradication of the disease in risk areas outside Europe's borders.

The event formed part of Ireland's EU Presidency Programme.