Rural and Environment

Reflections of Chief Vet: 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak

March 1, 2021 by No Comments | Category Agriculture, Farming

Sheila Voas. Photographer – Matt Cartney. Crown Copyright.

February marked the 20th anniversary of the start of the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak of 2001 – the worst the UK has experienced. But it wasn’t until 1 March 2001 that the first case was identified in Scotland.

As I have said before this is, in no way, an anniversary to be celebrated. It was devastating for farmers, vets and rural communities and will always be upsetting for those who lived through it. I’m sure that many people, like me, will be remembering and reflecting on the horror, the pain and the devastation caused to farmers and to those working closely with them, and also remembering the effects on the wider rural community, as the countryside shut down and tourism decreased substantially. Who will ever forget those images of pyres burning in the night, or the silence that was so loud in much of the countryside.

However while we remember the outbreak and all that was lost because of it, we should also reflect on the good that has come about as a result, with the aim of preventing such a disaster from happening again, at least in scale.

Following the outbreak there were several independent inquiries and reports which advised on how to improve our disease prevention and control measures in this country. Many of these recommendations have been implemented. Recommendations included improved contingency planning and legislation, livestock movement reporting and controls, improved biosecurity, investment in science and greater collaboration with the farming industry have been implemented.

The independent enquiries established that so called ‘silent spread’  or asymptomatic spread by sheep, particularly through livestock markets, had been a pivotal factor in the widespread of FMD across the country.

We implemented an EU regulation requiring the electronic identification (EID) of all sheep and we developed ScotEID, a system to track and trace sheep that minimises the regulatory burden on sheep keepers. Pigs were subsequently added to the system and we are in the process of adding cattle. The completed system will provide both government and the livestock sector in Scotland with a modern web-based system for the rapid and efficient tracing of livestock movements that shares livestock data with systems elsewhere in the UK.

This innovation provides substantial assurance that we will never again be in the position where we cannot trace livestock.

While FMD continues to be a widespread and is an ever present threat, we remain alert and regularly monitor the disease situation globally and make sure that people are aware of any potential threats. We continue to work closely with the livestock industry to promote good biosecurity practices on farm to prevent the spread of disease.

It is vital that livestock keepers are able to identify and rapidly report any signs of notifiable disease. The Scottish Government continues to produce educational resources that helps give farmers the knowledge of the steps they can put in place to prevent the introduction of disease in the first place and ultimately to prevent such an awful situation happening again.

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