Animal Movements & Exotic Diseases Division
To: FMD Stakeholders
DISEASE CONTROL (SLAUGHTER) PROTOCOL
In January we sent a letter consulting on the new disease control powers provided in the Animal Health Bill the Government had introduced before Parliament. One of these concerned criteria for the use of the wider slaughter powers. In the light of this consultation we have drawn up a Disease Control (Slaughter) Protocol and I enclose a copy for information. It is also being placed on our website. Should you have any comments you wish to make at this stage, please let me have them.
I should like to take this opportunity to let you know that we are preparing a "Decision Tree" for FMD control measures. This will set out the criteria by which choices would be made between different strategies, including vaccination. This goes further than the Disease Control (Slaughter) Protocol and would, in time, become part of the FMD contingency plan. Its purpose would be to ensure factors were considered in a systematic way at each point in the decision-making process and also allow for greater transparency. We shall be consulting on a draft shortly.
In controlling a future outbreak of FMD, the Government's objective will be to select the control strategy which:
7 allows the UK to eradicate the disease and regain disease-free status as quickly as possible;
7 minimises the number of animals which have to be slaughtered, either to control the disease or on welfare grounds.
7 causes least possible disruption to the food and farming industries, to rural communities, and minimises damage to the environment and the wider economy.
7 minimises the burden on taxpayers and enjoys public support.
Deputy Head, Animal Movements & Exotic Diseases Division
DISEASE CONTROL (SLAUGHTER) PROTOCOL
1. This protocol outlines the processes and actions that may be taken to slaughter animals in the event of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in order to control and eradicate that disease. The framework for the Government’s disease control policy is EC Directive 85/511 as well as the Animal Health Act 1981. This protocol also takes account of the new slaughter powers in the Animal Health Bill currently before Parliament.
2. Since circumstances can vary widely, it is not possible to prescribe a detailed response in advance of an outbreak. The decision to adopt a particular disease control policy will depend on a wide range of factors, many of which cannot be determined until the nature and extent of an outbreak is understood. Nevertheless this protocol indicates:
7 the factors that would be taken into account in deciding if animals are to be slaughtered (this will also indicate steps the owner of stock could take to protect their animals to allow possible exemption);
7 the process by which a decision to slaughter animals on a particular premises will be reached;
7 the method by which that decision to slaughter can be reviewed.
3. It is also important that those who have regular contact with livestock, e.g. farmers, private vets, shearers, AI staff, are aware of the signs of disease. Any suspicions of disease must be notified to the authorities (usually the State Veterinary Service (SVS)). Officials (State Vets, Animal Health Officers, OVS, Local Authority Animal Health Inspectors etc) have training in recognition of clinical signs and the actions to take.
4. There are three sets of circumstances when animals may be required to be slaughtered. These are:
7 Animals affected or suspected of being affected.
7 Animals which are believed to have been exposed to infection.
7 To prevent the spread of disease, e.g. a ‘firebreak’ cull. (This requires passage of the Animal Health Bill.)
Animals affected or suspected of being affected.
5. Animals which are affected must be slaughtered and an Infected Premises (IP) declared. EU Directive 85/511 requires the slaughter of all susceptible animals on IPs. The way in which the SVS are made aware of suspected disease includes:
7 Notification by farmer to the local Defra Divisional Veterinary Manager (DVM), the Local Authority or the Police. Such reports can be made at any time as there is always a duty vet on call.
7 Suspicion of disease by a private vet during an examination of animals.
7 Suspicion of disease by an Inspector during their work e.g. during farm visit or at a market.
7 Suspicion of disease in animals at a slaughterhouse.
7 Any other report of suspected disease e.g. from a member of the public.
When the State Veterinary Service (SVS) is made aware of suspicion of disease in animals they will arrange for a veterinary inquiry to be undertaken.
Animals which are believed to have been exposed to infection.
6. Animals may be slaughtered if they are believed to have been exposed to infection. In these cases, animals which are thought to have been exposed (see below for the routes by which this could happen) will be subject to a veterinary inquiry to determine if, in the opinion of the Veterinary Inspector, they have been exposed.
To prevent the spread of disease, e.g. a ‘firebreak’ cull as determined by the Secretary of State (as provided for in the Animal Health Bill).
7. The third group is when the Secretary of State has announced the need for a cull to prevent the spread of disease, e.g. a ‘firebreak’. Such a decision by the Secretary of State would describe the species, geographical area and, if appropriate, type of farming of the cull. As with all other disease control measures speed would be of the essence, but before the slaughter notice is signed the Veterinary Inspector must be satisfied that animals fulfil the criteria for inclusion. If the owner of the stock can provide evidence based on the criteria that they should be exempted then the Veterinary Inspector will take that into account before reaching a decision on slaughter.
The factors that would be taken into account in deciding if animals are to be slaughtered
8. Before the decision to slaughter animals is reached certain factors must be taken into account. The relative proportions of each which will contribute to the decision depend on the features and characteristics of the pathogen (virus) causing a particular outbreak.
Animals affected or suspected of being affected
9. The decision to slaughter these will be on either the results of laboratory tests carried out on samples arising from animals suspected of being affected with disease, or clinical evidence of disease.
10. In an area considered to be free of disease, normally disease will be confirmed on laboratory grounds. However, once disease has become established in an area it is likely that cases will be diagnosed on clinical grounds alone.
Animals exposed to infection
11. These are animals that are believed to have been exposed to infection. These are also known as Dangerous Contacts (and can include animals on contiguous premises). As virus can be excreted by such animals prior to the development of obvious and identifiable clinical signs, it is important that they are culled as soon as possible to stop virus production and hence spread of disease.
12. Animals can be exposed to infection by many routes. The following list is not exhaustive and the relative importance of each will depend on factors such as the pathogen and the characteristics of the particular strain causing this outbreak.
13. Whilst these are routes by which animals may become exposed to infection they are - in most cases - less likely to cause animals to be exposed if good biosecurity is practised. A decision will be taken by the Veterinary Inspector based on information gathered during the inquiry and account will be taken of any evidence of good biosecurity which is presented. Examples of how good biosecurity could allow animals to be exempted from culling are also given below.
a. Direct contact with infected animals
14. Infection is rapidly and efficiently passed from an infected animal to an uninfected, susceptible animal by direct contact between the animals. When establishing if animals have been exposed to infection following direct contact with an infected live animal, the following factors will be taken into account:
i. Physical nature of barrier between infected animal and susceptible uninfected animal.
ii. Distance between animals.
iii. Nature of the contact between animals .
iv. Amount of virus excretion.
b. Airborne Spread
15. Virus can be exhaled by an infected animal. The virus may be carried on air currents to susceptible, uninfected stock. The greatest risk of infection will be to stock on premises which are close to an IP though under certain circumstances more distant premises, possibly some distance away, may also be considered to have been exposed by such a route. (This is different to the culling to prevent the spread of disease which is covered in paragraph 25). When establishing if animals have been exposed to infection following airborne spread of virus the following factors will be taken into account:
i. Species of infected animals.
ii. Species of uninfected, susceptible animals.
iii. Pathogenicity and virulence of the viral strain.
iv. Prevailing wind direction during the period when animals on the IP are considered to have been excreting virus in exhaled air.
v. Distance between the infected and uninfected animals.
vi. Environmental conditions that could contribute to virus survival, e.g. temperature and humidity.
vii. Likelihood of release of airborne virus, e.g. nature of housing or measures to control air outlets from housed livestock.
viii. Likelihood of exposure to the airborne virus. e.g. nature of housing or measures to control air supply to livestock.
c. Movement of a live animal
16. Before disease is suspected and subsequently confirmed on a premises it is possible that an animal could, quite legitimately, have moved off that premises. Although disease had not been suspected, it is possible that disease was present when that animal moved off the premises. If that animal was itself infected it could infect other susceptible livestock at any time after leaving the premises.
17. When establishing if animals have been exposed to infection following the movement of a live animal, the following factors will be taken into account:
i. Likelihood the animal could have taken infection from the IP.
ii. Nature of contact with susceptible uninfected animals. (See (a) above.)
d. Movement of a person
18. A person moving from a premises where infection was present could transmit infective material on their skin, hair, clothes or footwear. When establishing if animals have been exposed to infection following the movement of a person, the following factors will be taken into account:
i. Likelihood that the person could have taken infection from the IP.
ii. Nature of biosecurity measures on leaving the IP and before any contact with susceptible uninfected animals.
iii. Likelihood the person could have introduced infection to susceptible uninfected animals.
e. Movement of vehicles
19. Vehicles could carry infection from a premises where infection was present to other premises where susceptible livestock are present. Such vehicles could include:
i Livestock transports.
ii Vehicle moving between livestock under the same ownership.
iii Vehicles collecting agricultural products, e.g. milk, wool etc.
iv. Vehicle delivering agricultural products e.g. feed, fertiliser, fuel etc.
v. Vehicle delivering non-agricultural products, e.g. post.
vi. Vehicle bringing persons etc for working on the premises.
20. The infective material could be carried anywhere on or in the vehicle. When establishing if animals have been exposed to infection following a vehicle movement, the following factors will be taken into account:
i. The nature of the contact with infected animals or materials from infected animals.
ii. Whether there was any cleansing and disinfection of the vehicle after contact with infected animals or materials and before contact with uninfected susceptible livestock.
iii. Whether the conditions during the journey would have rendered the virus non-viable.
iv. The nature of the contact with susceptible uninfected animals.
f. Movement of equipment or other materials
21. Equipment or other materials used on a premises where infection was present could carry infective material to susceptible, uninfected animals. Such equipment could range widely, from large feed mixers to thermometers. In establishing if animals have been exposed to infection following movement of equipment the following factors will be taken into account:
i. The nature of the contact between the item and infected animals.
ii. The nature of the contact between the item and susceptible, uninfected animals.
iii. Whether there was any cleansing and disinfection of the item.
g. Movement of animal products
22. Products from infected animals could contain viable virus which could infect susceptible, uninfected animals. Such products include milk, slurry, manure, meat, carcases (see also scavenging at (j) below). When establishing if animals have been exposed to infection following any movement of animal products the following factors will be taken into account:
i. Likelihood that the product contains viable virus.
ii. Effectiveness of any treatment undertaken before it leaves the IP or before it comes into contact with uninfected susceptible animals.
iii. Interval between removal of product and contact with the susceptible, uninfected animals.
h. Movement of feedstuffs or bedding
23. Products from infected animals could contaminate forages, feedstuffs and bedding materials with viable virus which could infect susceptible, uninfected animals. Such products include hay, silage, straw, materials used to contain or transport such products. In establishing if animals have been exposed to infection following movement of these products the following factors will be taken into account:
i. Likelihood that the product contains viable virus.
ii. Effectiveness of any treatment undertaken before it leaves the IP or comes into contact with uninfected susceptible animals.
iii. Interval between removal of product and contact with the susceptible, uninfected animals.
j. Movement by wildlife or non-susceptible vector
24. This is when a species of animal that is not susceptible to infection carries infective material from an IP either inadvertently or during scavenging. It is difficult to prevent this though good husbandry should reduce the levels of vermin that are attracted to a premises. Once the animals are slaughtered, and if there is likely to be any delay in disposal, then measures, e.g. rodent control, covering and spraying carcases, etc will be taken by the SVS to minimise this risk.
To prevent the spread of disease
25. The Government is committed to using the new slaughter powers in the Animal Health Bill only where this is justified by the circumstances and on the basis of sound veterinary, epidemiological and scientific advice. That means in particular that a risk assessment will be made of the possibility of disease spreading. It will include those animals that are judged to be at lesser risk of infection but which, should they become affected, would present a very significant risk to the farming and livestock community more generally. It is in such circumstances that effective preventative action may be necessary to safeguard the wider public interest. It could apply in particular to protect areas of dense livestock population. Any decision to use the wider powers of slaughter provided in the Animal Health Bill would be taken in the light of an overall assessment of the risks, costs and benefits in a given situation. This could include not only risks of transmission but also social and economic risks that would arise if effective and timely action were not taken. The Government would justify its decision to use the slaughter powers, explaining the veterinary, epidemiological and other relevant factors that had been taken into account.
An explanation of the process by which a decision to use such powers would be reached
26. Because specific details of the nature of a cull cannot be known until such a cull is required during an outbreak this section indicates the steps that would be undertaken before the decision is reached.
a) Identify a group of animals that could contribute to spread of disease. This would be based on
7 epidemiological modelling
7 consideration of local factors
7 determination of which species are involved
7 determine geographical area involved.
b) Consider if any exemptions could be allowed based on husbandry or other criteria, e.g. genetic value.
c) Determine the rules for inclusion of animals at the boundaries of that area.
d) Analysis of risks, cost and benefits.
e) Publish an outline of the reasons why such a cull is needed.
AN OUTLINE OF THE PROCEDURE BY WHICH ANIMALS ON A PREMISES WILL BE DEEMED TO BE INCLUDED IN A SLAUGHTER.
27. The premises to be visited would be determined. This could be as a result of:
7 Report of suspect disease.
7 Link to an Infected Premises.
7 Believed to contain animals to be slaughtered to prevent the spread of disease.
28. Once premises are determined, the following action would be taken:
a) Veterinary Inspector visits and ascertains if animals are to be slaughtered because they meet the criteria in paragraph 27. This could range from a detailed clinical examination to establishing if animals of a certain species kept under specified husbandry conditions are present.
b) The Veterinary Inspector would be required to explain the reasons to the owner and give them an opportunity to provide evidence if they believe the animals can be exempted.
c) To ensure the reason for slaughter is clear to the owner a slaughter notice is then issued.
Use of slaughter notices
29 These will allow the owner of the stock to be provided with:
7 the justification for slaughter (i.e. under which powers the slaughter is required) ;
7 the reasons why their stock are included, e.g. clinical signs, vehicle contact from IP, meet the criteria for slaughter to prevent the spread of disease.
30. Both as part of the slaughter notice and during explanations the owner must be made aware that they can ask the DVM to review this decision and be advised how and by when this can be done.
The method by which that decision to slaughter can be reviewed
31. The DVM, or a suitable alternative, must be available to hear such reviews. The following action would be taken:
a) They will consider the views of the owner as to why they believe the decision is wrong.
b) They must ensure that the veterinary inspector has carried out a full and fair inquiry to establish if the animals meet the appropriate criteria.
4 October 2002