Strasbourg, 14 March 2001
Foot-and-Mouth Disease by Commissioner David Byrne at the
Plenary session of the European Parliament
President, Distinguished Members,
I am glad of the opportunity to update
you again on the most recent developments in relation to
the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United
Kingdom and now in France.
You will recall that the first outbreak
in the UK was confirmed on 20 February in the evening. The
Commission adopted a safeguard decision the following day
on 21 February. This measure imposed a ban on the export of
certain live animals (cattle, sheep, goats…) from the UK
and restrictions on the export of meat, meat products, milk
and milk products and certain animal products.
Since then further measures have been
introduced to ban movements of livestock throughout the EU.
This measure is precautionary and aimed at reducing to the
very minimum any potential for the spread of the disease.
It must also be viewed in the context of the continued
increase in cases in the UK. Any expectation that the
crisis would quickly end have been disappointed.
Clearly, we need to be very concerned at
the evolution of the outbreak. Three factors in particular
First, the continuing uncertainty over
when the incidence in the UK will peak. Second, the
discovery of a case in France which ends our hopes that the
outbreak might be confined to the UK. Third, the imposition
by third countries of restrictions, many totally
unjustified, on imports of Community products.
I would now like to turn to each of
these concerns, beginning with the incidence in the
UK . It is clearly disappointing that expectations
that the incidence of the disease would shortly peak have
not yet been realised.
The veterinary experts remain of the
view that the restrictions on animal movements will in time
limit the potential spread of the disease. This highlights
the continued need for vigilance in the UK and for the
strictest possible implementation of the measures already
in place. Since the initial decision to ban exports of
certain meat and meat products, dairy products etc. there
has been a ban on movements of livestock, both in the UK
and also in other Member States.
While these restrictions are naturally
unpopular they are a small price to pay compared to the
consequences of not quickly eradicating the disease. I
would hope that this greater good is not lost sight of in
the present crisis.
Turning to France. I am sure that
everybody shares the Commission’s concern at the discovery
of the first case of the disease on the European mainland.
As you are no doubt aware, a case of foot and mouth disease
was confirmed yesterday in North West France in the Mayenne
It was detected in a cattle farm under
restrictions imposed preventively more than a week prior to
the confirmation of the outbreak. The cattle farm is beside
a farm where incubating sheep had been imported from the
United Kingdom on 16 February, i.e. a few days before the
outbreak in the UK.
The incubating sheep from the UK had
been destroyed on 1 March 2001 as a prevention measure
in accordance with the relevant Commission Decision. The
slaughtering and destruction of all 114 cattle in the
confirmed outbreak have started yesterday evening and this
operation is still ongoing.
This discovery dashes our hopes that the
disease could be confined to the UK. However, we can take
considerable comfort from the very decisive action taken by
the French authorities to isolate and destroy livestock
which had been potentially exposed to contaminated animals
imported from the UK.
The early action to restrict movements
of livestock in France should also have reduced the
potential spread of the disease. These measures, wrongly
viewed as excessive by some, have proven to be very
Nonetheless, there is a risk of further
outbreaks and the situation will have to be very closely
monitored. The Standing Veterinary Committee took the
decision late yesterday evening to ban exports of
susceptible animals from France and to also impose
restrictions on the movement of animals and certain
products from the Mayenne department and the adjoining
departement of Orne.
Clearly, any further outbreaks would
require additional restrictions on the regions concerned.
But the prompt action taken by the French authorities will
hopefully ensure that there will not be a need for more
Turning to third countries, the
Commission is deeply disappointed that the very firm and
decisive action taken to tackle the current outbreak has
not received the recognition it deserves. Instead of taking
reassurance from this firm action, third countries have
responded in many cases with restrictions which are both
excessive and unnecessary.
The Commission is urgently establishing
with the third countries concerned the basis and rationale
for the restrictions adopted. We will, of course, be
explaining the measures already in place which ensure that
such restrictions are not necessary. And, if necessary, we
will make full use of our bilateral contacts and our WTO
trade arrangements to have these restrictions
I have already been in contact with the
US Secretary for Agriculture regarding the measures imposed
by the US. I was reassured by the Secretary that these
measures will be reviewed urgently. We have agreed that our
respective veterinary services should co-operate urgently
on finding solutions. We closed with a commitment to remain
in close contact until a solution is found.
As an example of the approach followed
by the Commission I would point to the Community approach
towards the Argentine. Beef imports have been permitted
from the Argentine despite its regional problems with foot
and mouth disease. This was of course subject to very
strict controls, namely that the beef had to be from
FMB-free regions, deboned and matured to eliminate the risk
of transmission of the disease.
It was only following the further recent
outbreaks, the introduction of vaccination and the
self-imposed ban on exports to the US and Canada that the
Commission felt compelled to ban imports of beef from the
Argentine. The Commission remains committed nonetheless to
a regionalisation approach which can allow exports to
resume in safe conditions.
On a more general level, I would once
more to defend the firm action taken by the Commission in
dealing with the current outbreak. It is an essential and
very necessary reaction to a highly infectious disease with
potentially huge economic and trade consequences for the
This approach continues to enjoy the
strong support of the Member States in the Standing
Veterinary Committee and in the Agriculture Council. It is
also supported by the farming community throughout the EU
who are very conscious of the grave threat to their
livelihoods from the disease.
In this respect I would like to add that
there is still a consensus that vaccination should not be
resorted to except in the circumstances I have outlined
before. Namely in the context of preventative measures
where it is necessary to stop the further spread of the
disease pending eradication measures.
I would like to conclude with my
assurances that the Commission will continue to put all its
resources into eradicating this outbreak as quickly as
possible. I continue to be impressed with the huge
commitment of the Member States to rapid and decisive
action to restore the entire EU to its previous FMD-free
Thank you for your attention.
Released on 15/03/2001
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"