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FAO On Disease Alert

The global threat from the animal sickness foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) has increased after recent outbreaks in Japan and South Korea, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said April 28.

“We … have to ask ourselves if we aren’t facing a possible replay of the disastrous 2001 FMD transcontinental epidemic which spread to South Africa, the United Kingdom and Europe after earlier incursions in Japan and South Korea,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth.

FMD is a highly contagious disease hitting cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. It does not affect humans.

Even a small outbreak in a previously FMD-free country can cause millions of dollars of losses as global meat and livestock markets are closed off and disease control measures are enforced, Lubroth said.

The FAO has urged heightened international surveillance after three FMD outbreaks in four months in Japan and South Korea which are officially FMDfree countries, the agency said in a statement.

“We are worried because the rigorous biosecurity measures in place in the two countries were overwhelmed, pointing to a recent, large-scale rate of infection in source areas, very probably in the Far East,” Lubroth said.

Earlier this month Japan confirmed an outbreak of the type “O” FMD virus, currently more common in Asian countries where FMD is endemic, while South Korea was hit by the rarer type “A” FMD in January and then by type “O” infection in April, the FAO said.

Japan suspended beef exports in April and South Korea has started culling animals to contain the outbreak.

The 2001 FMD outbreak caused more than $12 billion of losses to agriculture, livestock trade and tourism in the U. K. alone where more than six million sheep and cattle were slaughtered in order to prevent further spread of the disease, FAO said.

The routes taken by the virus in Japan and South Korea have not been identified, but experts say the infection could have occurred through food waste, with pigs eating infected meat scraps, the agency said.

“Under the circumstances we consider that all countries are at risk and a review of preventive measures and response capacity would be welcome,” Lubroth said.

It is necessary to strengthen biosecurity, boost controls including more rigorous checks at ports and airports, as well as ensure earlier reporting of disease, the agency said.

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