Speaking at his regular weekly meeting with interested parties, the Chief Veterinary Officer, Jim Scudamore, made the following statement on Friday (9 March):

"Foot-and-mouth outbreak is back on the front page, there have been signs that some people felt that the problem was over, and that the tight controls under which the country has been operating were no longer required. This could have caused some complacency in observing the rules.

"From a veterinary point of view, I must emphasise that we are still caught up in a serious disease problem, which may well get worse before it gets better. If we are to keep the outbreak under control, the tight restrictions on livestock movements and other activities risking disease spread are absolutely essential, and must be rigorously obeyed and enforced. These restrictions must be retained until we are sure the outbreak is over. To relax the controls too early could lead to a further deterioration in the situation.

"Some idea of the serious implications of foot-and-mouth disease can be judged by the actions of the EU Standing Veterinary Committee earlier this week. Unlicensed livestock movements have been banned throughout Europe for a week, in circumstances where there had not yet been a confirmed case on the Continent.

"One concern has been that people may misinterpret the arrangements for moving livestock direct to slaughter as meaning that the outbreak is on the wane. That is not the case. Such movements are acceptable under domestic and European legislation during a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, provided they are under the control of the competent authority. These movements only pose a very limited risk of danger to animal health if everyone abides by the rules. However, there are worrying reports of abuse of this system, including farmers turning up at abattoirs which have not been expecting the consignment, or with more animals than had been booked and licensed. The abattoirs and the Meat Hygiene Service have, I believe, dealt with most individual cases; but there is a risk that such movements could compromise the disease security of the one-way slaughter chain.

"Let me reiterate the position. At present, the only animals which can move to slaughter are those from outside infected areas; they can only do so with a licence, which must be obtained from their local Trading Standards Department. The farmer or keeper of the animals then has to complete a legal declaration about the status and number of the animals, and confirm that they are booked into a specified abattoir at a specified time on a specified date. The movement then has to be completed on the day of that declaration, and the animals slaughtered by the abattoir within 24 hours of arrival. Once in the one-way tube, animals must not come into contact with livestock, except where it is also destined immediately for slaughter.

"The veterinary advice which I have to give Ministers about other proposed movements - to collection centres and for welfare reasons - has to take full account of our experience so far with movements to slaughter. It also has to take account of the developing disease situation which is regularly reviewed. Unless very carefully controlled, movements of animals can, as we have seen in the course of the present outbreak, spread foot-and-mouth disease."

just-food.com published a feature on foot and mouth. To read it, click here.