The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) represents all the veterinarians of Europe. Its biggest division is the Union of European Veterinary Practitioners (UEVP), which represents all those in practice.
FVE and UEVP together issue the following statement.
The current outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in Europe is a disaster not only for agriculture but also for many related enterprises and organisations. FVE and UEVP offer their support to all those fighting to control the disease and to all those directly or indirectly affected by it.
FVE and UEVP share the concern of the general public over the death and destruction of large numbers of animals, many of which are not infected with the disease.
This situation results from several factors, among which is the non-vaccination and stamping out policy adopted in the 1990s to eradicate the disease and to open new export markets. This policy leaves however non-vaccinated countries vulnerable, as the current outbreak demonstrates.
There has been extensive debate on whether vaccination should be used to combat the current outbreaks. The answer is not simple and, if vaccination is used, as part of the control strategy, there are many ways in which it could be employed.
This is a risk management decision, which must be based on epidemiological data, such as geographical and climatic conditions, the density of the susceptible animal population, and the susceptible species involved, as well as on ethical concerns and not on economic grounds alone.
FVE and UEVP welcome the latest decisions from the European Commission to allow emergency vaccinations in the Netherlands and in the UK as an instrument of risk management.
Fate of vaccinated animals
It has to be recognised that the killing and destroying of vaccinated animals requires a political decision and depends on how quickly a country wishes to regain its FMD-free status.[i][i]
If FMD occurs in an FMD free country or zone where vaccination is not practised (like the European Union) and if the infected country has recourse to emergency vaccination, with stamping-out and serological surveillance, the country can only regain its FMD free status 3 months after the last case and after the slaughter of the last vaccinated animal.
If vaccinated animals are not slaughtered, the situation is more complex and needs to be discussed in the context of the International Animal Health Code of the Office International des Epizooties, the world organisation for animal health.
On the other hand, the Amsterdam Treaty recognised animals as sentient beings and Member States consequently agreed that the Community and Member States shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals to ensure improved protection and respect for the welfare of animals.
FVE and UEVP therefore urges Member States of the European Union and the European Commission to explore with the Office International des Epizooties the options for dealing with vaccinated animals and for minimising the unnecessary slaughter of healthy animals to regain FMD free status.
Rehearsal of the FMD risk management strategy
This major outbreak demonstrates that the European Union FMD risk management policy may not be appropriate or that the risk assessment, on which it is based, should be reviewed.
FVE and UEVP call for a review of the FMD risk management strategy. This review should include a discussion of the EU non-vaccination policy as well as other aspects, which may have contributed to the seriousness of the current outbreak.
The benefits of the non-vaccination policy will have to be reviewed in the light of the current developments. In that review the benefits of persevering with a non-vaccination policy in order to preserve export markets have to be set against the implications for the farming community, animal welfare, ethical values and the acceptance of such a policy by the public.
FVE and UEVP call on the Commission to initiate a debate on the non-vaccination policy, not only in regard to FMD but also to other animal diseases such as Classical Swine Fever.
Marker vaccines and/or diagnostic tools that could allow the vaccination of animals, whilst enabling to make a distinction between vaccinated animals and animals carrying the virus, are needed, as they could provide greater flexibility in the prevention and combating of FMD outbreaks. Such marker vaccines and/or diagnostic tools are however not yet available.
FVE and UEVP call on the European Commission, Member States of the European Union and the pharmaceutical industry to actively pursue the development of marker vaccines and/or diagnostic tools.
It is likely that the infection originated from material entering the EU from a third country. This illustrates the need for stricter controls at the European Union external borders.
FVE and UEVP call on the Commission and Member States to introduce and implement tighter controls on imports from third countries so that the same situation does not happen again.
It is also likely that this infected material was fed to pigs and that the virus then spread from this first contamination. Although, swill (i.e. treated household and catering waste) fed to pigs should be heat treated to destroy possible pathogens[ii][ii], experience demonstrates that these requirements are either not always sufficient or not complied with in all cases.
FVE and UEVP therefore call for a review of the practice of swill feeding and for a phasing out of such activities.
It is also likely that the original infection in the UK had been present on a farm for some time before it was eventually discovered in a slaughterhouse during an ante-mortem inspection and reported to the authorities. Had the infection been diagnosed on the farm, earlier animal movement restrictions would have been introduced, thus avoiding the spread of the virus and limiting the total number of outbreaks.
FVE and UEVP therefore call for adequate veterinary presence on all livestock holdings so that catastrophic diseases such as this are identified more quickly. FVE and UEVP also call for the development of herd health surveillance programmes involving routine visits by practicing veterinary surgeons.
This major disease outbreak has strained the State Veterinary Service of the Member States concerned to the limit. This confirms previous reports from the Food and Veterinary Office of the European Commission that many Member States of the European Union have inadequate veterinary manpower to deal with not only animal health but also animal welfare and veterinary public health requirements, including such control measures as the BSE ones, imposed by the European Union legislation.
FVE and UEVP call on the Member States of the European Union to ensure that their veterinary services are properly resourced.
The control of this outbreak has been complicated by difficulties in tracing animal movements due in particular to the lack of an effective system of identification of all farm animals. Furthermore, the ANIMO system, used in the European Union to track movements of animals between Member states of the European Union must be improved to a more effective system.
FVE and UEVP call for the identification of all farm animals allied to a more effective system for tracing all animal movements be they international, within a Member State, or between individual livestock holdings.
It seems that the spread of the virus has been facilitated by intensive animal movements from farm to farm throughout the UK, then from the UK to the continent and eventually from farm to farm on the continent.
FVE and UEVP invite the Commission and Member States to consider the introduction of standstill periods to limit movements of animals recently introduced on a farm.