The current situation with regard to foot and mouth disease poses a very great risk to the farming industry in Northern Ireland. The effects of spread of the disease within the island of Ireland could be devastating. In an attempt to prevent spread of the disease, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has issued the following advice for organisations which access agricultural and other rural land in the course of their business.

Need to access agricultural land

Organisations accessing agricultural and other rural land must take great care that they do not act as inadvertent transporters of the disease. DARD requests that you give serious consideration to whether it is essential for your organisation to enter onto such land. If such access can be suspended until the foot and mouth disease situation becomes clearer, then we ask that you would do so and greatly appreciate your co-operation in this matter.

If you believe access is essential

Firstly we would ask that you contact the Divisional Veterinary Office covering the area in which you wish to work. The staff there will be in a position to advise you on the disease situation in the area. We would ask that you discuss, with the staff, the work you intend carrying out and base your decision in this information.

If you are proceeding with access

Staff going on to agricultural land should be equipped with protective clothing which is capable of being effectively cleansed and disinfected. They should take with them a supply disinfectants, buckets and brushes. The disinfectant used must be approved for foot and mouth disease control by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. A list of such disinfectants may be obtained from Divisional Veterinary Offices or on the DARD website by clicking here When using disinfectant, appropriate health and safety precautions must be taken. The manufacturer's safety data sheet should be consulted. A COSHH assessment must be carried out and all health and safety requirements complied with. The following information is for general guidance only.

To protect the skin from disinfectant, operators should wear the following waterproof protective clothing: boots, overalls (or coat and leggings), headgear and gloves. Waterproof clothing means clothing made of rubber, plastic or similar impervious material which can be washed down and disinfected.

Landowners should be contacted and asked for the safest and most direct route to the area to which you require access. They should be asked to remove any livestock from this area and your workers should stay as far away from animals, their excrement etc. as possible.

Unless it is unavoidable, vehicles should not be taken onto agricultural land. Cleansing and disinfecting contaminated vehicles effectively is not easy. It is preferable that they be left on or adjacent to public roads and that personnel proceed on foot with smaller equipment.

Workers should move about on the land as little as possible and stay for as short a time as possible.

On leaving the premises, workers should cleanse and disinfect their protective clothing and equipment. (See guidance above.)

Any vehicles taken onto the site should be cleansed and disinfected. The whole vehicle must be thoroughly cleaned and free from mud, dung and any other dirt. Disinfectants are only effective in clean conditions. Not only does dirt act as a barrier between the disinfectant and the surface to be disinfected. It also interacts chemically with the disinfectant to render it less effective. Particular attention should be paid to the hidden underside of the vehicle, including the wheel arches where dirt tends to cling and cake, and to the tyre tread or tracks. The dirt should first be soaked with disinfectant. This should be done using a low-pressure applicator such as a knapsack sprayer. To remove the dirt, a power hose will be required in most cases but the creation of an aerosol may necessitate the use of eye and respiratory protection. All washings should be mixed with disinfectant before being allowed to enter drains. Contamination of watercourses with disinfectant must be avoided.

Approved disinfectant should then be applied to all external surfaces of the vehicle, taking special care with the underside, wheel arches, tracks etc. and the interior of any vehicle which has carried livestock or agricultural produce. This should be done using a low-pressure applicator such as a knapsack sprayer. The use of a high-pressure hose is more hazardous as the disinfectant solution in aerosol form is more likely to be inhaled necessitating the use of a high-specification mask.

When cleansing and disinfection of the vehicle has been completed, all protective clothing and equipment should be hosed down. The operator should wash all areas of exposed skin.

Consideration for our agricultural industry

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is aware that the precautions outlined above will mean considerable inconvenience to those involved in accessing agricultural and other rural land in the course of their activities but would stress that transmission of this most contagious and economically significant disease must be avoided at all costs.

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