Swine nutritionist Mark Bertram says, "You really need to know your system to secure
effective best-cost rations."
Swine nutritionist Mark Bertram says, "You really need to know your system to secure effective best-cost rations."

Food-and-mouth disease (FMD) has been an economically devastating animal health threat in various parts of the world over the years. While the United States hasn’t faced the disease that can infect any animal with hooves since 1929, concern lingers within all sectors of animal agriculture. 

Today, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) announced an initiative to combat FMD on a global scale, laying out a detailed strategy to bring it under control and work toward an FMD-free objective.

Both international groups emphasized, however, that all global partners will have to make sincere commitments to achieve success. The announcement came at an FAO/OIE international meeting in Bangkok supported by the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

"Thailand is working for the further accomplishment of FMD freedom by 2015 in an eastern region pilot zone of the country as well as at ASEAN regional level by 2020," Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa, said during the opening session.

"Recent FMD outbreaks around the globe demonstrate that animal diseases have no boundaries, can have a devastating impact and require a global response," said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO’s regional representative for Asia and the Pacific.

FMD itself is not typically fatal to animals, but its highly contagious nature forces animal culling in order to control the disease and it quickly closes trading options for infected countries. The disease can cause high mortality in newborn and young animals, weight loss, reduced milk yields and lower fertility. It is not of concern to humans.

The global cost of FMD associated with production losses and vaccination for prevention estimated at $5 billion annually. Some countries are skittish to import animals or meat from animals that have been vaccinated with an FMD vaccine, but much progress has been made. There is a “marker vaccine,” which now makes it possible to differentiate between animals infected with FMD virus and animals vaccinated against FMD.

Progress is being made in diagnostic tests as well. According to Jim Roth, DVM, at Iowa State University, oral-fluid testing for swine shows promise. In this case, ropes are hung within pens, which the pigs chew on; the ropes absorb saliva, which can then be tested for certain diseases. More work needs to be done on FMD, Roth notes, but it appears hopeful for FMD diagnostics and monitoring.

As an example of a severe event, in 2001 the United Kingdom’s direct and indirect cost impacts are estimated at $30 billion.

Earlier outbreaks had similar tolls: in the Chinese province of Taiwan in 1997, a major epidemic cost the economy $15 billion; Italy in 1993 suffered economic damages of $130 million. In 2010, an outbreak in South Korea forced the country to cull one-third of its swine herd. People can easily spread the disease as well as improperly cooked meat that comes in contact with animals, as was the case with the South Korea incident, so the ease and growth of international travel has heightened the concern.  

"One main objective of the Global Strategy is to allow FMD control worldwide through the strengthening of veterinary services responsible for animal disease control," explained Bernard Vallat, OIE director general. "Positive effects of the strategy will extend far beyond FMD control because it represents an opportunity to initiate long-term actions which will enhance veterinary services' capacity to fight other high-impact livestock diseases.” He pointed to the South-East Asia and China FMD campaign (SEACFMD) program managed by OIE/Bangkok as an efficient model.

Juan Lubroth, FAO's chief veterinary officer, pointed to the eradication of rinderpest as a joint effort involving scientists, governments, donors, veterinarians and farmers. "We could apply lessons learned and appropriate approaches when it comes to foot-and-mouth disease: better surveillance, coordination and control to reduce FMD outbreaks and finally eliminate the virus, to safeguard food security, animal health and human health," he said.

The global strategy combines two tools developed by FAO and the OIE. The OIE tool, called the Performance of Veterinary Services Pathway (PVS), evaluates national veterinary services with the aim of bringing them into compliance with OIE quality standards. Reliable veterinary services ensure the quality and safety of livestock production. In turn, strong veterinary systems protect the safety of food sources, trade and animal health, and as such, are a global public good.

FAO developed the Progressive Control Pathway for Foot-and-Mouth Disease, or the PCP-FMD. It guides countries through a series of incremental steps to better manage FMD risks, beginning with active surveillance to establish what types of FMD virus strains are circulating in the country and neighboring areas.

The process moves countries continuously towards improved levels of FMD control and thus an eventual opening to trade and international markets. A key pillar of the PCP-FMD involves coordinating efforts with countries in the same region in order to control the disease systematically across porous national boundaries.

The FMD Global Strategy aim is to decrease the impact of FMD worldwide by reducing the number of outbreaks in infected countries until they ultimately attain FMD-free status. Of course maintaining the official FMD-free status of countries that are already free is a goal as well.

With many countries in the earliest stages of FMD control, the PCP-FMD benchmarks progress with the aim of eventually applying to the OIE for official recognition of their national control program and of their FMD-free status, with or without vaccination.

The FMD Global Strategy has been prepared by FAO and OIE under the umbrella of their Global Framework for the Progressive Control of Transboundary Animal Diseases (GF-TADs), in consultation with selected experts, countries and donors, as well as with regional and international organizations. Particular emphasis is put on regions of the world where the disease is endemic, including most of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

The strategy contributes considerably to poverty reduction by increasing trade opportunities as well as contributing to and protecting the daily incomes of the 1 billion poor farmers worldwide who depend on livestock.

More than 100 countries are attending the FAO/OIE meeting in Bangkok.