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UN agency calls for global action to thwart spread of foot-and-mouth disease

UN agency calls for global action to thwart spread of foot-and-mouth disease

Globalization of trade can lead to the spread of serious epidemics such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which calls for a worldwide effort to control the disease at its source in developing countries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

"Contingency planning for emergencies, strengthening of border controls and of commodity inspections, although essential to combat outbreaks, will not be enough to manage the risks of international spread of FMD," FAO Director-General Dr. Jacques Diouf said in his opening statement to a "Ministerial meeting on the Experiences of FMD," held during FAO's Governing Conference that began in Rome on 2 November.

During today's meeting, FAO member countries focused on the repercussions of the devastating FMD outbreak recently in Europe and the impact of epidemic animal diseases on agriculture, trade and food security. The UN agency is warning that the disease is highly contagious and can spread rapidly in livestock through movement of infected animals, contaminated objects such as trucks, and even wind currents.

To reduce the risk of the disease, FAO is recommending a system similar to the one already developed by FAO for food crops - a Global Information and Early Warning System for transboundary animal diseases which takes account of the official reporting of the Office International des Epizooties, disease investigations, epidemiological and laboratory studies.

"With increasing globalization, the potential is there that different FMD types could spread widely from their natural habitats in developing countries, unless effective control measures are put into place at source, where they are endemic," Dr. Diouf said. "Attacking FMD and other animal diseases in developing countries is in the self-interest of industrialized countries. Supporting developing countries in their fight against transboundary animal diseases could reduce the risk of FMD outbreaks in developed countries."

FAO is calling upon the industrialized countries to assist developing nations so they can target their research, control transboundary animal diseases and promote safe trade in animals and animal products. Veterinary services in developing countries should also be strengthened, the agency says.