Call to consider EU-wide jabs to put an end to foot-and-mouth

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Series Details Vol 7, No.14, 5.4.01, p2
Publication Date 05/04/2001
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Date: 05/04/01

By Simon Taylor

DUTCH and German farm ministers next week will launch a debate on whether to use widespread vaccination to prevent further devastating outbreaks of foot-and-mouth.

Laurens-Jans Brinkhorst and his German counterpart Renate Künast will ask fellow ministers whether vaccines should be used to protect against the disease, which has resulted in the slaughter of more than a million animals in the UK and other EU states.

A spokesman for the Dutch farm minister said: "This is not a reform to be introduced now but Mr Brinkhorst believes that we need to start the debate soon."

Brinkhorst and Künast met in the Netherlands last week to work out common lines on the issue. Cases of foot-and-mouth have been confirmed on two farms in the Netherlands and suspected occurrences on three more holdings are being investigated.

Germany is currently probing its first suspected case on a pig farm near the border with the Netherlands.

The two have put the subject on the agenda of next week's informal meeting in the Swedish town of Östersund, where ministers will discuss ways of ensuring a "safe, sustainable and ethical food chain".

Until now the EU has been steadfastly opposed to a generalised inoculation policy because it would mean the loss of the Union's disease-free status, automatically shutting its exports out of lucrative foreign markets. The UK and Netherlands are inoculating animals in areas surrounding outbreaks to create a 'firewall' to prevent the disease spreading to healthy animals.

Food safety chief David Byrne explained the Commission's opposition to generalised vaccination, telling MEPs: "There is still no widespread support for such a policy." While vaccination seems "an attractive alternative to killing and destroying animals", Byrne said, the reality was that there were "important limitations to vaccination".

He argued that there is no test to distinguish inoculated animals from those which had contracted the disease and that the EU would have to treat 300 million cattle, sheep and pigs at risk. Also, he said, animals would have to be inoculated against seven different strains of foot-and-mouth; the protection lasts only a limited time, so regular revaccination would be necessary.

Instead, Byrne said that the Union executive would launch a detailed inquiry into the causes and lessons of the current outbreak.

The call by the two ministers for a rethink of policy on inoculation came as the number of confirmed cases in the UK topped 1,000.

On Wednesday (4 April) the UK government's chief scientific advisor said emergency measures designed to stamp out the disease were "starting to bite". This week Norway lifted its ban on imports of meat and dairy products from four EU countries: Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Austria.

Dutch and German farm ministers are set to launch a debate on whether to use widespread vaccination to prevent further devastating outbreaks of foot-and-mouth.

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