The high cost of cutting corners
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CTA. 2001. The high cost of cutting corners. Spore 94. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Animal diseases are powerful, fearful factors in our lives. Scorning boundaries, they jump from beast to beast, from wild to domesticated, and, rarely, from animal to man. A cause for great concern especially where markets might be lost but...
Animal diseases are powerful, fearful factors in our lives. Scorning boundaries, they jump from beast to beast, from wild to domesticated, and, rarely, from animal to man. A cause for great concern especially where markets might be lost but action requires resources and organisation. The devastating ten-year march of one strain of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) through Asia and southern Africa and finally into Europe in 2001 was hardly news for people throughout much of the world where such diseases are endemic. The flurry of activity in Europe highlighted the fact that such damage lurks just the other side of a thin, protective line. It also highlighted the acute need for more resources for protection and surveillance in developing countries. The pictures, published worldwide, of the bonfires of slaughtered herds of sheep, cattle and goats in parts of Britain in early 2001 were nothing if not memorable. In its response to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, that nation seemed to pick obsessively over the entrails of its agricultural policies and engaged although few would admit it in a voodoo-like ritual of anguish about living in an unsafe world. Were the macabre flames of the pyres of millions of diseased animals the beacons of an agriculture that had seriously lost its way? Meat consumption fell yet again, interest in vegetarianism soared, and tourism suffered. Elections were postponed and farmers wept in self-pity. Mind you, many seemed to cry all the way to the bank, well recompensed by the government. A few even moved their sick herds around from farm to farm, to boost the numbers for when the government inspectors came to assess the damage. By early July 2001, there had been 1,800 cases reported in six months, and more thanthree million cattle, sheep, pigs and goats had been disposed of. Statistically speaking, it is little more than a mere scratch on the surface, but economically and emotionally the scar is long and deep. These drastic measures were mirrored elsewhere in less-afflicted Europe, and life returned to normal. Within weeks, the disease was contained, and the prime objective of the exercise of slaughter and disposal to be able to continue trading in meat had been met. Have virus, will travel The pan-Asia strain of the FMD virus which hit Britain had been on the move for more than ten years. According to reports in the Veterinary Record, it was first identified in India in 1990; it spread far in Eurasia. From Taiwan it journeyed to southern Africa, wreaking havoc. In South Africa alone, hundreds of thousands of animals were infected and destroyed in early 2001: the country was declared disease-free on 11 April. No stranger in any continent, FMD was last reported in North America in 1929. On the grassland pampas of South America it has of late hit as hard as in Britain, via a different strain. In early 2001, Uruguay suffered 1,300 cases and Argentina 1,200, vaccinating 49 million head of cattle in response. In sub-Saharan Africa, the recent strain was restricted to the south, but at the end of 2000, other outbreaks had been reported in 16 countries, from Senegal to Swaziland. No outbreaks had been reported recently in the Caribbean or Pacific. There are, besides FMD, many other endemic livestock diseases. Among those causing great damage at present are anthrax in southern Africa, Rift Valley Fever in eastern Africa, swine fever in Spain, avian influenza in Asia and Newcastle disease in poultry in west Africa. One factor in the spread of these and many other diseases is the extent to which wild animals act as carriers. Better separation of herds from bush animals is an important element in prevention in many countries, just as vaccination offers sound protection. The stakes are high The recent outbreaks of FMD in the North are estimated to have cost tens of billions of dollars, but thanks to subsidies and insurance, few people will suffer financially for long. In developing countries, it is different. Peter Roeder of FAO s Animal Health Service repeatedly made the point early in 2001: 'Wherever livestock is farmed, FMD constitutes a threat to people s livelihoods. The fight against epidemic diseases of humans and animals is far from over; indeed, for livestock diseases it has barely started in most parts of the world.' With FMD, the threat to income is double-edged: if your herds are vaccinated against the disease, they will be seen as having it and be classed as unexportable. Better, though, poor and safe than poor and sorry? Isn t it ironical that the Northern thrust of the FMD virus seems to have come from cost-cutting measures? Intensive animal rearing, cuts in veterinary services, lax import controls on meat products, and closures of local slaughterhouses leading to increasing transport of animals have all hung out the Welcome sign to the disease. Do not lose your head The real, deep public concern, however, is about a separate issue: the spread of disease from animal to humans, such as anthrax, tuberculosis and, lately, the potential spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or 'mad cow' disease. This is named from the way it attacks the nervous system and destroys part of the brain, causing the animal to stagger and shake. BSE probably spread through the centuries-old practice of adding to cattle feed. Some of this MBM may have come from sheep meat and bone meal infected with the nervous condition scrapie. What probably sparked off BSE was the reduction, for cost reasons, of the cooking temperature for animal swill. The first mad cow was identified in 1986; 180,000 cases have since been destroyed in Britain, and about 1,300 cases elsewhere in Europe. The human form of BSE, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or nvCJD, induces loss of memory, and a collapse of the nervous system, more virulently than the normal CJD which occurs naturally in about one person in a million. The nvCJD has killed 80 people in Britain so far and two in France; the reasons for its transfer are not fully understood. Because of an incubation period of up to ten years, it is estimated that between 10,000 and 80,000 people in Britain could fall victim. Who really knows? Have BSE and nvCJD spread to other countries? Maybe. With inadequate surveillance mechanisms, in a number of ACP and other developing countries in particular, it is tempting to speculate. In reality, no-one knows. What is certain, according to a joint statement by the World Health Organisation, the FAO and the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) in Paris in mid-June 2001, is that 'materials potentially infected with BSE have been distributed throughout the world through trade in live cattle, certain cattle products and by-products.'. These organisations 150 veterinarians, food safety experts and health officials called upon governments to consider banning the feeding of MBM to ruminants. They recommended additional resources to assist developing countries in assessing their potential exposure to BSE-infected materials and in managing the risk. They called for guidelines for self-help surveillance, and for consumers to avoid specified high-risk materials (like spinal cord, brain, eyes, tonsils and parts of the intestines from cattle, sheep and goats).They urged scientists to be proactive and to inform the public of any new risks, however unsettling. Getting hit the hardest In the past, the agricultural systems of ACP and other developing countries have suffered disproportionately from the negative aspects of technical innovations and regulatory procedures. Now, two separate concerns about the vulnerability of herds to diseases, and the transferability of animal disease to humans are homing in on the livestock sector of these countries. Every step on the meat chain, in terms of visible surveillance, quality control and traceability, export promotion and marketing, is now more expensive, and harder to win. Beyond the threat to trade, there is a perhaps uncontainable, massive risk to livestock and human health alike. The bitter twist to this tale is that the neglect, some may say folly, of the rich has now raised the cost for the poor too. [caption to illustration] Animals still jump over this fence in Botswana, erected to prevent wild animals spreading diseases [summary points] The current wave of animal disease has emphasised: that the risks of disease rise in line with intensification the real risks of false economies the need for sound surveillance of animal and human health the need for increased resources in this area, and for sound public information a serious drop in consumer confidence. World beef consumption is expected to fall by 3%, and by 15% in Europe, in the two-year period 2001-2002.
- CTA Spore (English)