UN urges for global moratorium on research using deadly livestock virus
“While rinderpest has been successfully eradicated, there may be some virus material that would be useful for research or vaccine development,” said the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Chief Veterinary Officer, Juan Lubroth, noting that countries “must make absolutely sure that this material is kept in just a few high security laboratories to avoid any unacceptable risks.”
A highly infectious viral disease, rinderpest does not directly affect humans, but it takes just a few days for a sick animal to die and it can wipe out whole herds. The last known outbreak occurred in Kenya in 2001.
Rinderpest was officially declared eradicated by FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) a year ago, meaning that the virus that causes this destructive livestock disease no longer circulates in animals and continues to exist only in laboratories.
In a news release, FAO stated it is working with OIE to bring about the destruction of potentially dangerous rinderpest virus samples and biological materials that are currently stored in more than 40 laboratories across the world, some under insufficient levels of biosecurity.
“Virus samples must be kept safely or otherwise they should be destroyed,” Mr. Lubroth said. “We must remain vigilant so that rinderpest remains a disease of the past, consigned to history and the textbooks of veterinarians to benefit from the lessons we’ve learned.”
In two international resolutions passed last year, OIE and FAO member countries agreed to destroy remaining stocks of rinderpest virus or to safely store them in a limited number of relevant high containment laboratories approved by both organizations. They also agreed to ban any research that uses the live virus, unless approved by FAO and OIE.
“The moratorium will remain in place and all future research proposals should be submitted to OIE and FAO for approval, in keeping with the 2011 resolutions,” the news release stated.
The two organizations said destroying the virus is a priority. They will provide guidance and support to laboratories to help them transport virus-containing materials to an FAO/OIE-approved high containment facility for biologically secure storage.
FAO also underlined that it would maintain sufficient levels of monitoring and surveillance for rinderpest virus outbreaks until 2020.