Preventing Foot and Mouth Disease in the European Union

Europe is still at risk from occasional outbreaks of the well-known animal disease called Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)[1]. The last major FMD outbreak in Europe started in the United Kingdom in 2001 and spread to several other Member States before it was eradicated. This outbreak is estimated to have cost up to €12 billion and had a severe social and economic impact on the affected agricultural communities. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has today published an Opinion of its Animal Health and Welfare Panel (AHAW) analysing the risk of FMD re-entering the European Union (EU) and the likely routes by which this could occur. The Panel also recommends possible initiatives to prevent FMD’s recurrence in Europe, particularly by investing in disease control approaches “at source” in regions where FMD is endemic.

FMD is a viral disease which principally affects cattle, sheep, goats and pigs[2] and is not of concern to human health. The disease has severe economic consequences for the agricultural sector and thus profoundly impacts on the livelihoods of rural communities. It also has a major impact on international trade.

In its Opinion, the AHAW Panel has:

  • evaluated the risk of re-introduction of FMD into the EU
  • assessed the likely entry routes for the import of infected live animals and meat, meat products and other products of animal origin containing the FMD virus
  • suggested how to further prevent FMD from entering the EU
  • assessed the feasibility, as well as the potential benefits for the EU, of prevention through controlling the disease “at source” in endemic countries.

The disease has been successfully eradicated from the EU. Unfortunately, the factors and circumstances related to the last entry of the disease into the EU in 2001 have not all changed for the better. The new emerging strain of Asia 1 FMD, present in Central Asia and China, is of particular concern as established control programmes need to be adapted to combat new strains.

The main risk of FMD entering the EU is through the import of infected animals or meat and meat products containing the virus. The AHAW Opinion identifies those regions in the world whose imports pose most threat to the EU. These are primarily South East Asia and China (Indo-China), South Asia and to a lesser extent Eastern Africa and the Sahel[3] region of Africa. (Figure 1-see next page- provides an indication of where the disease is estimated to be most prevalent in the world). Strict import controls in place in the EU[4] protect European livestock from FMD; however, it is impossible to stop every illegal import at the EU’s borders. With the constant growth of animal movements and imports of meat and meat products into the EU, illegal imports are also increasing and are difficult to control. Incentives for profit and demand for ethnic and cultural foods, not so easily available in the EU, are continually adding pressure to EU control mechanisms through illegal imports. Growth in international travel from endemic areas is also increasing the number of illegal imports of meat and meat products in passengers’ luggage crossing EU borders[5] .

The AHAW Panel recommends a three-pronged FMD risk reduction strategy focused on controlling the disease “at source.” This approach is comprised of: regional control programmes (where regions are defined on the basis of their epidemiological characteristics); a global surveillance partnership to reduce FMD risk in all regions; and the promotion of safe trading of livestock commodities through formal channels (Details of these specific control and eradication strategies are included in the full FMD report). The AHAW Panel considers that the implementation of such an approach could achieve the eradication of FMD but this could be a long-term commitment.

Figure 1: Where FMD is most likely to be present in the world

© Copyright EFSA – reproduction authorised using mention “© Copyright EFSA”.

[1] FMD affects cloven-footed domesticated mammals, including cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. Wild herbivores such as bison, deer, antelopes, reindeer, giraffes, and llamas are also susceptible.
[2] See footnote one.
[3] Sahel - wide stretch of landin Africa between the Sahara to the north and the more fertile region to the south running from the Atlantic ocean to the African "Horn" and passing through Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.
[4] Council Directive on FMD: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32003L0085&qid=1414163839768&from=EN
[5] Based on seizures at EU border posts, it is estimated that somewhere between 1% and 5% of travellers introduce an average of 5kg of various products of animal origin. Many of these arrive from endemic FMD areas.

Media contacts