Lessons learned from the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak will minimise the risk of an outbreak of that scale from happening again, claims Christianne Glossop, chief veterinary officer for Wales.

Lessons learned from the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak will minimise the risk of an outbreak of that scale from happening again, according to Christianne Glossop, chief veterinary officer for Wales.

Up to 10-million sheep, pigs, and cows were slaughtered during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom. Image courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the outbreak, which devastated the farming industry of Great Britain. The disease was confirmed in the UK on February 20, 2001, in Brentwood, Essex, and lasted for 221 days. It was subsequently confirmed in Wales on February 27 in Gaerwen, Anglesely, lasting for 166 days.

Remembering the events from a decade ago, Prof Glossop said: “I vividly remember hearing news breaking of the first case in Essex, and the devastating events of the following weeks and months as the disease spread across Great Britain.

We learned valuable lessons from that outbreak and have much tighter animal movement controls in place as a result. This includes a six-day standstill for farms receiving cattle, sheep or goats. This measure alone would slow-down any silent spread of disease in future prior to FMD being identified.”

Prof Glossop claimed that farmers in Wales are now more educated about the need for vigilance in looking for signs of infectious disease, and more aware of the importance of biosecurity.

“The 2001 outbreak taught us that FMD does not allow us the luxury of time to take decisions. In future, on confirmation of FMD, a nationwide movement ban will be introduced immediately to limit its spread,” she explained.

“Largely as a result of what happened in 2001, animal health and welfare powers were devolved to Wales in 2006, meaning we can implement our own policies in future outbreaks taking account of local circumstances as well as the wider disease picture.

“The Welsh Assembly Government published its own contingency plans for the first time in 2003, and their effectiveness is regularly tested, and kept up to date.”

She claimed that the “distressing sight” of burning carcases should not be repeated Wales now has alternative disposal arrangements in place in case of future outbreaks, involving rendering and commercial incineration.

She concluded: “We all hope that FMD never strikes in Great Britain again. But if it did, I believe that we are well prepared to do everything we can to minimise the impact on our livestock, our farming communities and on our country.”

Prof Glossop’s comments come a month after vets taking part in Operation Silver Birch (a DEFRA-led simulation exercise to test the UK’s contingency plans for a large-scale disease outbreak) voiced their concerns over vulnerabilities within the system.

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