Speech by David
Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Protection, Foot and Mouth Disease - Informal Agriculture
Council meeting in Sweden, Östersund, 10
th April 2001
I am pleased to update you on the latest
situation regarding foot and mouth disease. I will be as
brief as possible as time is short and I am sure that you
will all wish to contribute to the discussion.
The situation in relation to the
outbreak is currently as follows.
In the UK there have been, as of
yesterday, 1163 outbreaks. While the daily incidence is now
falling it will be some time before we have a full picture
of the situation. Nick Brown will update us on how he sees
the future evolution of the outbreak.
In the Netherlands, there have been 20
outbreaks in total since the first case was detected on 21
March. France has not reported any new cases since its
second case on 23 March. Remaining restrictions are
scheduled to lapse on 12 April – this Thursday. Similarly,
Ireland has not reported any new case since its one and
only case on 22 March. The existing restrictions will also
lapse on 19 April. In both Ireland and France, therefore,
the stamping out policy has proven successful.
In all other Member States, there are
also grounds to consider that they have succeeded in
avoiding any outbreaks.
The Commission’s strategy towards the
crisis has been to act decisively and quickly. We are
maintaining a very high level of co-ordination and
co-operation with the Member States. For example, there
have been eight meetings of the Standing Veterinary
Committee since the crisis broke. A ninth meeting is taking
place in Brussels as we speak.
We are acting urgently on all new
information. For example, the Commission has acted to
impose Community restrictions within 24 hours of confirmed
outbreaks. There have been no fewer than twenty four
decisions adopted since the outbreak of the crisis.
We are acting with as much transparency
as possible. The crisis has been discussed, in addition to
the meetings of the SVC, in the Agriculture Council
(twice), in the European Parliament on several occasions,
in the European Council and in countless press conferences
and technical briefings.
We are working hard to convince third
countries, like Japan and Russia, that exports from the
Community are safe and are not a risk. I also met the new
US Secretary for Agriculture, Ann Vanneman in Washington
recently and she has undertaken to regularly review the
situation. However, until it is clear that the outbreak is
confined to the UK and under control, we are fighting an
uphill struggle in lifting the full range of
The Community wide measures (excluding
the UK), are targeted on very important restrictions on
movements of live susceptible animals. This is aimed at
ensuring that the potential for any outbreak to spread is
reduced to a minimum. I think it fair to point out that it
has already proven its worth. All the outbreaks outside of
the UK can be traced to animal movements which took place
before the imposition of the movement restrictions.
Over the past number of weeks, the
movement restrictions have been refined. On the one hand,
to allow for some limited flexibility, for example to
permit movements directly to abattoirs for slaughter. On
the other hand, to tighten up on potential weaknesses, for
example by insisting on standstill periods before animals
can be moved to or from a farm.
I would now like to speak on two other
important issues. Vaccination. And the follow-up to this
crisis when we have succeeded in eradicating the
Turning first to vaccination, let me be
clear: the Commission’s preferred option in dealing with
this outbreak is a policy of stamping out. This is the
option which has been adopted in both France and Ireland.
It has been painful but I firmly believe that it has proven
The Commission also accepts, however,
that there are circumstances where emergency vaccination
may be considered. First, "suppressive vaccination", in the
Netherlands, where there is insufficient capacity to
slaughter and destroy animals. In such circumstances,
animals may be vaccinated to prevent the further spread of
the virus until time is found for slaughter and
This policy has subsequently been
refined in both the Netherlands and the UK to allow for
"protective vaccination" of cattle which are exempted from
being immediately killed and destroyed. Instead, there are
very strict restrictions on the movements of these cattle
and on their milk and milk products. And – when eventually
slaughtered – of meat and meat products from these
A potential obstacle to this policy is
consumer resistance to products from vaccinated animals.
While such products are perfectly safe, consumers may
insist on their right to know and refuse such
Where the Commission does not see a role
is for "general prophylactic vaccination" which would
involve the vaccination of entire animal species or the
entire livestock population. The reasons are well known to
There is no test to distinguish
vaccinated animals from infected animals which allows the
disease to continue to persist in the animal
There are seven strains of FMD, each
with several sub-strains. Vaccination is only effective
against the targeted strain and for a limited period
the selection of the vaccine strain is
a lottery as FMD is not endemic in the EU. It is
impossible to predict the precise serotype or strain of
virus accidentally introduced;
There are over 300 million susceptible
livestock (cattle, sheep, pigs, …) in the EU which would
need to be vaccinated to give full coverage;
It would jeopardise our trade to
certain countries which insist on imports only from
FMD-free countries which do not vaccinate.
Generalised prophylactic vaccination has
not been asked for in this Council. Nor has it been asked
for by the European Parliament or the European Council
which discussed the crisis in Stockholm recently. The
present Commission approach has also been fully supported
in the Standing Veterinary Committee where your veterinary
experts have discussed the issues in depth.
To conclude, I intend that when this
outbreak has been eradicated, we will need to carry out a
very thorough examination of all the contributory factors
to the current outbreak and the consequences.
This needs to include issues such as the
Vaccination and in what circumstances
there could be a departure from the current policy of
"no" to generalised vaccination. New and more effective
marker vaccines and discriminatory tests could, for
example, increase the available options;
Weaknesses in tracability of animals
and especially of sheep and pigs;
Animal transport and especially
measures which allow live animals from different Member
States to cross-contaminate one another;
Sanitary controls on imports, bearing
in mind that the existing EU provisions are adequate, if
respected, to keep out the virus.
Costs: the present outbreak already
has a full potential cost to the Community budget of up
to €250 million – a figure which continues to
Further discussions in the relevant
international bodies, especially in the OIE, on the
current approach towards the virus.
There are some issues in particular
which I intend to give very urgent attention. Animal
transport provisions to begin with. I also intend that the
same veterinary and sanitary controls should apply
throughout the EU. This would involve an end to exemptions
for imports for military personnel and for transhipments
Another area in need of urgent review is
our controls at points of import to the EU. I have already
stated – and repeat – that the existing Community
legislation is adequate to address the threat from illegal
and unsanitary imports. The question arises, however, if
this legislation is being properly and uniformly
For example, we need to review the
operations of border inspection posts if we are to preserve
the integrity of the internal market in imported
foodstuffs. We have to aim for a situation where the same
high level of controls exists in all such posts. If that
requires greater resources, in the Member States and in the
Commission, it will be a small price to pay compared to
further crisis of the current nature.
We must also take account of our
limitations. Not all imports are through veterinary posts.
And not all imports are legal. The full co-operation of all
relevant services, not just the veterinary services, is
necessary to guard against such abuses. We will need much
more effective awareness campaigns in this respect.
These are only a very few issues which I
look forward to discussing with you in much greater depth
in the future.
Thank you for your attention and I now
look forward to your views.
FOOD SAFETY |
DIRECTORATE GENERAL "HEALTH
& CONSUMER PROTECTION"