MEPs scrutinise management of foot and mouth crisis

The decision not to use vaccination to combat last year’s foot and mouth epidemic was mainly based on fears that consumers would not buy meat from vaccinated animals. This was the conclusion of the European Parliament’s Temporary Foot and Mouth Committee meeting on 26 March 2002.

Nick Brown, the former British Agriculture Minister, told the Committee that the food industry and supermarket chains had refused to accept products originating from vaccinated animals. Mr Browne added that the majority of British farmers opposed vaccination because it would have endangered the UK’s “disease-free without vaccination” status – a requirement for exports under the rules of the International Organisation on Epizooties (OIE).

Another major issue discussed at the meeting was illegal meat imports into the EU. Dr Scudamore, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, explained that the virus responsible for the epidemic could be traced to contaminated animal matter, illegally imported into the EU and probably used illegally as swill. Intensive animal movements and the structure of the sheep industry were important factors in the spread of the disease, which led Dr Scudamore to believe that all animal movements should be banned in case of new epidemics. MEPs called for much stricter import controls.

An idea put forward by MEPs and strongly supported by Mr Brown was an insurance fund to provide compensation for losses to farmers and tourism. The epidemic will cost the EU budget over € 420 million for 2001, and roughly the same for 2002. Mr Brown said the disease had cost the UK Exchequer £2.7 billion.

 

Instead of vaccinating animals, the EU tried to eradicate the disease by slaughtering and destroying infected animals and contact animals. In December 2001, the European Parliament set up a Temporary Committee on Foot and Mouth to analyse the management of the foot-and-mouth epidemic and to look into vaccination policy. The Committee, which will work for one year, first met on 21 February 2002 (see EURACTIV21 February 2002).

The Foot and Mouth Committee has started its investigation by questioning the Commission as well as (former) UK government representatives.

 

Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne announced that the Commission is preparing a new Directive, to be presented by mid 2003, in order to set up a new strategy "which will learn from the lessons of last year".

 

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