FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY
FOOT ANDMOUTH DISEASE
What does it mean for the consumers?
The Food Standards Agency advised on 21 February that foot and mouth disease does not pose a threat to food safety. This remains the case. The Agency has continued to monitor the outbreak and today issued further advice on the public health implications of the measures being taken to control foot and mouth.
USEOF A FOOTAND MOUTH VACCINE
The Food Standards Agency is satisfied that the use of such a vaccine would not have any implications for food safety.
All vaccines for food animals have to be given a licence before they can be used. As part of the licensing process, the Government’s independent expert committee, the Veterinary Products Committee, thoroughly assesses the safety of the vaccine to ensure that its use will not pose any threat to human health. This was done for the Foot and Mouth vaccine in 1992 and again when the licence was renewed in 1997, and on both occasions the Committee was satisfied that there would be no safety problems for anyone eating products from animals that have been treated in this way.
SALEOF MEAT FROM FOOT AND MOUTH SURVEILLANCE ZONES
The European Commission and the Government have agreed arrangements for the slaughter of animals from FMD surveillance zones for human consumption, providing the animals are certified as not showing clinical signs of disease. For disease control reasons a special round GB health mark will be stamped on export-standard meat produced in Great Britain to show that the meat can not be exported. This mark will be used on all meat processed in Great Britain.It is not an indication as to the origin of the meat, as it applies equally to imported meat that has been processed in Great Britain.
The round health mark will replace the oval EU health mark. These arrangements are expectedto come into force on 23 April.
The Food Standards Agency is satisfied that the meat from animals slaughtered under these arrangements would have no implications for food safety.
FOOD SAFETYAND FOOT AND MOUTH VACCINATION
How safe is itto consume meat and milk from animals that have been vaccinated against FMD?
The vaccine uses a dead virus, soit isn’t active and therefore cannot spread the disease. The vaccine has been through rigorous safety assessment by independent experts (the Veterinary Products Committee) before being given a licence. Millions of doses of FMD vaccine have been given world-wide with no adverse effects on human health. Foot and mouth disease vaccines are widely used throughout the developing world in parts of Africa, South America and Central America.
If people go abroad on holidayto countries where the FMD vaccine is routinely used and eat meat, that meat has probably been vaccinated and has never been shown to cause any human health problems. In mainland Europe (including The Netherlands, France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, people were drinking milk and eating meat from animals vaccinated against FMD up until 1991.
In the Netherlands, meat from vaccinated animals does not enter the human food chain. This is as a result of concern about animal safety (vaccination may mask the presence of infection) rather than any risk to human consumers. Milk from vaccinated animals is being used for human consumption within the Netherlands.Why is the FSA not proposing to label food products derived from animals that have been vaccinated against FMB? Doesn’t this deny consumers choice?
Animals are vaccinated against a number of diseases, about 33 in total, none of these vaccinations are known to pose any threat to human health. This is the case with FMD.
Therefore, the FSA sees no reason to treat animal products from FMD vaccinated animals differently to products from animals vaccinated against other diseases.
The Agency is satisfied that the use of the FMD vaccine does not adversely affect the quality or safety of animal products. There is therefore no difference, from a human health point of view, between products from vaccinated and non-vaccinated animals. The FSA thinks it would be inappropriate if FMD vaccinated meat was labelled while other vaccinated meat was not.
If meat and milk from animals vaccinated against FMD is safe to eat, why is the Government talking about additional measures for these products, such as heat treatment for milk and de-boning of meat?
These are not food safety measures. They are disease control measures drawn up by Maff.
The disease is highly contagious for animals and these extra controls are aimed at preventing the disease from spreadingto non-infected animals.
It has been reported that shops say they will only stock milk and meat from FMD vaccinated animals if consumers want to buy them. Surely there isa danger that consumers will simply stop buying all British meat and milk if they are not confident of what they are buying?
We understand the supermarkets concern about consumer confidence. But, we are dealing with a situation that is very well understood. The disease is well known, it has been around for a long time. It has been studied very extensively and we are confident that there is no human health risk from vaccinated milk or meat from vaccinated animals.
What about the farmers’ opposition? Surely this sends a message to consumers that there is something to worry about?
Not at all. We have to be clear about different concerns here. Farmers are quite rightly concerned about their animals’ welfare and controlling the spread of the disease. These concerns are not prompted by food safety issues.
Vaccinations are used regularly for cattle in theUK Which ones and on what scale? Do they result in antibodies or virus in the milk or meat?
There are currently 33 vaccines for cattle in the UK. Most of these are inactivated vaccines for calves and cattle against a range of diseases endemic to the UK. There are also a number of live vaccines, such as those against respiratory disease caused by bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) virus and parainfluenza virus (P13) and a vaccine against lungworm.
There is a zero withdrawal period for these vaccines, as they do not present a risk to human health. Both live and inactivated vaccines do result in serum antibodies being excreted in the milk. Sales of some of the vaccines are very extensive; for instance tens of millions of doses of inactivated clostridial vaccine for sheep and cattle and of live parainfluenza virus vaccine are sold each year.