UK a high risk foot and mouth zone

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

The European Commission this week declared that the UK,
excluding Northern Ireland, is a high risk zone, as Foot and Mouth
Disease (FMD) spreads across potentially three UK farms.

The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health voted unanimously on the zone being put in place, as requested by the UK authorities, despite a ban on animal movement within the country being relaxed. The current ban on exports of meat and live animals from England, Scotland and Wales will not be lifted until 25 August at the earliest, EU vets have decided, and it is likely to cause a loss of about $20m a week, the Financial Times estimates. The outbreak could have the same disastrous effect on the meat industry as BSE did 20 years ago, which caused sales of British meat exports to plummet. The UK meat industry still hasn't recovered since the BSE crisis in 1986, despite a 10-year-old ban being lifted in 2006. Before the BSE crisis in 1986, the UK's beef exports were worth about £1bn (€1.5bn) compared to £20m (€29m) in 2004, according to Food from Britain, a consultancy. Tests confirmed the presence of FMD on two farms in Surrey, England, last week, and yesterday a new suspected case of foot-and-mouth disease was discovered outside the existing surveillance zone, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFEA) said. A three kilometre temporary control zone had been set up in the county after an "inconclusive assessment" of symptoms in cattle, enlarging the original zone established last week. EU vets indicate that the current strain of the disease is 01 BFS67, a virus isolated in the 1967 FMD outbreak in the UK. The strain is similar to those used by laboratories and vaccine production, including at the Pirbright site shared by the Institute of Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health Ltd, a pharmaceutical company, the European Commission said. The area outbreak was detected is situated approximately 5 km from Pirbright, and the UK authorities are investigating any potential security breaches at the site. FMD is an acute infectious disease which causes fever and blisters, especially in the mouth and on the feet. It spreads through contact with the saliva, milk, dung or blood of infected animals, as well as by the movement of animals, humans and vehicles that have been in contact with the virus. Although rare in humans, FMD causes loss of milk yield, mastitis, sterility and chronic lameness in livestock. There is no cure for the disease, so slaughter is the only control policy available to farmers, a necessary measure because widespread disease throughout the UK would cause significant welfare problems, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said. Outside the EU, countries that have banned UK-meat imports include the US, the Philippines, South Korea, South Africa and Japan.

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