Science Policy

Another Foot and Mouth Disease case in the UK

09.12.07 | 2 min read | Text by Michael Stebbins & Ivan Oelrich

The the Institute for Animal Health has confirmed a positive test for foot-and-mouth in Surrey, just outside London. The latest report that I could find indicated that they had ordered the slaughter of 300 animals in the area of the outbreak and that all cattle movement and exports had been halted. The site of the infection is very close to the location of an August outbreak. British authorities are apparently also investigating a possible case in Norfolk. If positive, that would be even more devastating than the reemergence of the disease in Surrey because it is over 100 miles away.

What I find remarkable is the British response to the reports, which are rapid collection, identification and diagnosis immediately followed by the establishment of a 6 mile control region and, perhaps most unusual, clear communication with the public. We do not have as sophisticated a system in the US right now, mainly due to the size and nature of our cattle industry, which dwarfs the UKs. While 80 to 90 percent of U.S. cattle production is concentrated in less than 5 percent of the nation’s feedlots, it is unclear that we could respond this quickly. Also, our herds are vastly larger than those kept in the UK and an outbreak in even a moderately sized herd of cattle could be devastating to our beef industry.

Senator Burr (R-NC) introduced the National Agriculture and Food Defense Act in July. The bill takes Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9) and turns it into law, expanding and detailing how the 28 sections of the Presidential directive will be implemented. The overall goal of HSPD-9 and the bill are simply to establish a national policy to defend our agriculture and food system against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. The bill has not been marked up in committee yet, and there are some contentious issues surrounding some of its provisions, but on the whole it is sorely needed so we can move forward with the Herculean task of establishing a system as advanced as the UK system, here. The thought of an FMV outbreak in any major US herd in the feed-belt makes me shutter.