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The outbreak of foot and mouth disease was uncovered by staff of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), an executive agenc...
The outbreak of foot and mouth disease was uncovered by staff of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), an executive agency of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Every abattoir in Great Britain operates under the supervision of veterinarians and meat inspectors of the MHS, based in each plant. One of their key roles is to ensure that no unfit animal enters the abattoir.
Before slaughter they check the animal's general welfare and cleanliness, and ensure that they are not obviously lame or suffering from any disease. If, upon inspection, a suspected notifiable disease is identified, the divisional veterinary manager of the ministry of agriculture, fisheries and food (MAFF) is contacted and appropriate action is taken.
Last Monday Craig Kirby, the MHS's official veterinary surgeon based at the Cheale Meats abattoir in Essex, uncovered the start of the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Craig explained:
'I was in the abattoir carrying out my normal duties. We had pigs and sows on site ready for slaughter. As is normal, the pigs were dealt with first, and gave me no cause for concern. The drover began moving the sows, and they became very noisy. I moved in to look at their condition. I quickly spotted that they were showing the signs of foot and mouth disease.
'Foot and mouth is not a disease I have ever seen before, but it is one of the key diseases we are trained to spot. The implications of missing an outbreak of foot and mouth at an early stage are enormous, given how far and how fast it travels. I have always hoped never to see it, for the sake of the livelihoods of farmers; others in the industry, and the well-being of the animals themselves.'
Immediately following the discovery, Craig notified the MAFF divisional veterinary manager and stopped all production operations on the site. His team of MHS inspectors was rapidly mobilised to prevent anything or anyone entering or leaving the abattoir. Security patrols were put in place.
Craig added: 'Vets and meat inspectors perform a service that people do not see
and are therefore unaware of. But we are conscious that the work we do is vital to maintain food hygiene standards and to protect consumers. Fortunately, in this case, there is no threat to food safety, as foot and mouth disease has no implications for the human food chain.'
1. Since 1 April 2000, the Meat Hygiene Service has been an
executive agency of the Food Standards Agency. Before that, it was
an executive agency of the ministry of agriculture, fisheries and
food (MAFF). The MHS was originally established on 1st April 1995
when it took over meat inspection duties from some 300 local
authorities. MHS staff (official veterinary surgeons, meat hygiene
inspectors, and meat technicians) are at the forefront of
protecting public health and animal welfare, and are an important
link in the food safety chain.
2. The MHS is responsible for enforcing meat hygiene regulations
in licensed abattoirs and meat cutting plants, including
ante-mortem and post-mortem veterinary inspection of live animals
and carcasses. The MHS is also responsible in abattoirs for
enforcing BSE controls - the regulations which require the removal
of Specified Risk Material (SRM) most likely to carry BSE
infectivity; and the Over Thirty Month Rule which prohibits entry
into the human food chain of cattle over that age (with the
exception of cattle which come under the Beef Assurance Scheme).
3. Although the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease was
first detected in a licensed abattoir, it is essentially an animal
disease and has no implications for food safety. For this reason,
the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) is
responsible for the management of the disease and relevant
enforcement measures; animal movements; export controls;
compensation for farmers, and the State Veterinary Service (which
is investigating the origins of the disease). MAFF has a special
Helpline for queries concerning foot and mouth disease -
0845-0504141. Information is also on the MAFF website,

To help ensure that the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease is contained and eradicated as quickly as possible, the ministry of agriculture is prohibiting the movement of all sheep, cattle, pigs and goats within Great Britain. Great Britain will be declared a 'Controlled Area' under the Foot and Mouth Disease Order 1993 until Friday 2 March.
Speaking in London agriculture minister Nick Brown said: 'Foot and Mouth Disease has been confirmed on the farm in Heddon-on-the-Wall in Tyne and Wear. It seems likely that this farm may have been the source of the current outbreak.
Disease appears to have been present for two to three weeks, and there have been regular personnel and transport links with the Essex abattoir. The State Veterinary Service have already identified some 400 animal and vehicle movements which need to be investigated.
'The chief veterinary officer for Great Britain, Jim Scudamore, has advised me that there is therefore a real risk that FMD could appear anywhere in the UK. In the circumstances, and after discussion with interested parties in the farming and food industries, he has advised that there should be a seven-day standstill of livestock movements throughout the country.
With the relatively short incubation period of FMD, this should give us a much better handle on what kind of outbreak we are facing; and meanwhile stop the movements which pose the greatest risk of spread.
'While this will obviously be disruptive, there was general support from the farming and food industries this morning that this is the right approach.
'Journeys which have already begun at that time may continue to destination. The controls will be based on the establishment of a 'controlled area' under the 1983 Foot & Mouth Disease Order.
However that would normally permit local authorities to issue licences for certain types of movement. Our presumption is that there should be no movements for this short period. I will therefore retain a reserve power to permit the issuing of licences, to cover any exceptional circumstances which come to light over the next few days.
'I shall be taking these powers for England & Wales. Parallel measures are expected to be brought in Scotland. Northern Ireland is a separate area for disease control purposes, but may well follow suit.
'We shall be working in the closest co-operation with all in the relevant business and rural communities, whose responsible approach to the present disease is appreciated, and essential to restricting the spread of disease.
We believe that the food chain can sustain an interruption of up to a week in fresh supplies. We will obviously look carefully at any real difficulties next week.
'The controlled species are those susceptible to FMD - pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and the like. Poultry and horses are not affected; nor is the supply of milk.
'The controls will close fairs and markets, and prohibit deer and fox hunting, and hare coursing, because of the risk of disease spread.
'During that period, officials would work with the industry and local authorities to establish what regime should come in after this week.
'Over and above these controls, I call on the whole farming and rural community to exercise responsibility, and avoid any unnecessary gatherings of people, or movements of large numbers of people, on farm land.'
1. The Helpline Telephone 0845 050 4141 (local rate) is open between
8 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 9.00 a.m. and
1.00 pm on Saturday.
2. Anyone wanting more specific information about restrictions on
the movement of animals in the infected area in Essex or wishing
to report suspicious signs in their animals or livestock, should
contact their local MAFF Animal Health Divisional Office.
- For enquiries on the export of live animals, ring
0207 904 6343
- For enquiries on the export of meat and animal products, ring
0207 904 6417/6418
- For enquiries on the export of semen, embryos and ova, ring
0207 904 6442
3. For more details visit the MAFF website on:
This site will be updated daily.
The Foot and Mouth Disease Declaratory (Controlled Area) (Scotland) Order came into force at 1745 Friday February 23.
The order will impose a complete restriction on movements of all susceptible animals throughout Scotland for a period of seven days, ie until Friday, March 2. It will:
Stop all movement of susceptible animals - mainly pigs, cattle, sheep and goats - and their carcasses;
Reserve to Scottish ministers the power to grant a licence permitting movements - but, in common with the position south of the border, no movements will be licensed for the time being;
The order will permit journeys in transit to be completed; and large gatherings of animals on farms - such as shows, fairs or auctions - will be prohibited.
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