A few days in May shed a glimmer of hope that the United Kingdom’s foot-and-mouth disease outbreak was coming under control. A few days later, new FMD clusters popped up, keeping the episode alive.
“We are slowing down, but there will be more outbreaks,” Keith Baker, with the British Veterinary Association, told attendees of The Summit on FMD, presented by Watt Publishing and the Vance Food Systems Group. “When FMD slows down, people become complacent and that causes problems.”
He pointed to the U.K.’s large sheep industry of 44 million head as another reason why the disease could hang around. “Symptoms are subtle in sheep and lesions are not readily evident,” he said. “Also, there’s tremendous physical movement of sheep in the U.K.”
He called the current outbreak “unprecedented”. From Feb. 29 through June 1, FMD has infected 1,658 farms; 3.25 million animals have been slaughtered, involving a total of 5,850 farms. Comparatively, an outbreak in the U.K. that ran from October 1967 to June 1968 involved 2,364 farms and 442,000 animals were slaughtered.
Manpower continues to be a major shortage and a significant obstacle in controlling and cleaning up the disease. “We started with the laboratory ability to test 7,000 samples a week; now we’re up to 60,000 per week. That means we have the ability to release 1,000 farms a week if they meet the criteria,” said Baker. “But we also need qualified people to collect the samples on the farms.”
Other words of advice he offered the United States: “You have to ensure that the welfare of the animals is upheld. Public perception is very important.” With that he emphasized the importance of being forthcoming with information. “You have to be totally transparent, provide information on a Web site – and if you change reporting procedures for any reason, people will think you’re hiding something.”