FMD is a highly infectious viral infection that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and deer. There are several strains of FMD that can only be differentiated in the laboratory.
While FMD is not normally fatal to adult animals it is severely debilitating and causes significant loss of productivity. Particularly in cattle the disease can leave animals lame, sterile and subject to abortion. In some cases chronic heart disease occurs.
Recovered animals can become carriers of the disease without showing the obvious symptoms of the disease. FMD is often fatal in young animals.
The first symptoms of the disease are fever followed quickly by the developments of blisters – chiefly in the mouth and on the feet. The symptoms are not dissimilar from some other animal; diseases and therefore laboratory tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis.
The virus is present in fluid from the blisters and it can also occur in saliva, milk and dung. At the height of the disease the virus is also present in the bloodstream. Animals excrete the virus a few days before the signs of the disease develop.
Animals pick up the virus either by direct or indirect contact with another infected animal. In the past, outbreaks of the disease have been associated with imported meats and meat products from countries where FMD is endemic.
The disease is spread by the movement of animals, people and vehicles. Trucks, Lorries, market places and loading ramps – in or over which infected animals have travelled – are dangerous until they have been disinfected.
Roads can also become contaminated and the virus can therefore be picked up and spread on the wheels of passing vehicles. Airborne spread of the disease is also possible and the virus can be carried over considerable distances.
The disease can be carried on the hands, boots and clothing of people working with animals and dogs, cats, poultry, wild game and vermin may also carry the infection.
Very few human cases of FMD have ever been recorded and its symptoms are mild. No medical intervention is necessary.
The virus can be destroyed by heat, sunlight, low humidity and various disinfectants. Cold and darkness tend to keep it alive and under favourable conditions that virus can survive for long periods.
How is the disease controlled?
The basic control policy is the slaughter of all susceptible animals on premises infected with FMD and dangerous contacts. Movement restrictions are also put in place to help contain the disease. Currently there is a ban on all livestock movements throughout the U.K. and around the immediate infected sites a 3km radius Protection Zone and a wider 10km Surveillance Zone.
The issue of vaccination is contentious. There is an E.U. ban on routine vaccination. This has been in place since 1992 and allows E U member states to retain the highest FMD status under international rules. The EU allows for the potential use of emergency vaccination as a means of preventing the spread of FMD but in order to retain disease-free status the animals would have to be subsequently slaughtered.
Is there anything different now compared to the last outbreak in 2001?
At no point during the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth was there a national ban on the movement of stock, so this is a new situation for all. A ban on the export of any meat or dairy products will last until three months after the last case of foot and mouth is declared.
The immediate consequences of the ban on livestock movement are far reaching. In practical terms farmers are not permitted to move any stock across a public highway, apart from dairy cattle moving to and fro for purposes of movement to the milking parlour from pasture. As many farmers have fields separated by lanes or roads, they cannot at present transfer stock at all, even if the field is just yards across a road.
Stock cannot be loaded onto transport for removal to a parcel of land not immediately next to the farm.
Stock cannot be separated unless there are adjoining fields available, not separated by a road. At this time of year, sheep and lambs are being separated, the fat lambs sent straight to market or they lose condition, and the breeding stock is made ready for the sales which usually begin in mid August.
Tups cannot be moved to serve the sheep, nor bulls to bull the cows. This presents a problem in terms of feeding stock which should have left the farm. There will be a knock on effect next year as the time of lambing will be affected.
Income from the sale of sheep and fat lambs as well as beef and cull cattle is not coming into the farm to offset the rising cost of feeding the stock.
Fallen stock, which cannot be buried on farm and is usually collected for incineration off farm is also affected by the ban on livestock movement. Dead stock will be collecting on farms at a time of year when decay is rapid. This has now been relaxed, but with strict conditions.
All related industries are affected. Auction Marts, many of which are staffed part time by farmers, and abattoirs, livestock hauliers and veterinary surgeons; farm diversification schemes such as farm shops, cheese and ice cream manufacturers etc.
The relaxation in movement restrictions from Midnight on August 8th does not allow movement of stock on the farm, but only permits farmers to take stock straight to the abattoirs. This is not what most farmers normally do; - stock is sold to the highest bidder through the marts.
Financial Help Available
The ban on livestock movements will have severe financial repercussions for many people in the rural economy.
The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) has implemented its emergency procedures to ensure that all requests for help from farming families facing financial hardship as a result of the current foot and mouth movement restrictions will be processed without delay.
"We are already providing support for those hit by the recent floods and we are especially concerned about the effect that the movement restrictions will have on those families in the flooded areas. We expect that the long-term effects, coupled with increased feed prices, will result in a considerable increase in the number of people suffering hardship."
RABI provides emergency funding to cover domestic expenses for farming families and considers all reasonable requests for financial assistance.
The RABI emergency helpline number - 01865 727888 - is currently manned during office hours (with a message facility out of hours).
All calls are treated in the strictest confidence.
The emergency team will be monitoring the situation and 24-hour manning will be introduced if required.
It is likely that the ARC Addington Fund will also be offering financial assistance.
Our thanks to the Churches Together in Cumbria Team for this information.
Back to top