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UK Animal Health 2003 Report

by 5m Editor
7 July 2004, at 12:00am

By Defra - This annual report by the Chief Veterinary Officer sets out the main aims of both the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and the Veterinary Surveillance Strategys over the year ahead and looks in particular at the protection of public health in relation to food safety and diseases transmissible to humans.

Animal health 2003 Report - By Defra - This annual report by the Chief Veterinary Officer sets out the main aims of both the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and the Veterinary Surveillance Strategys over the year ahead and looks in particular at the protection of public health in relation to food safety and diseases transmissible to humans.

I am delighted to present this Annual Report on animal health for 2003 which is my last as Chief Veterinary Officer (UK). As always, there were a number of new challenges to face alongside the ongoing animal health and welfare issues in Great Britain, and the key issues are covered in the Summary on the next page.

To reflect the importance of our more strategic approach we have included a Strategic Overview section in this report, setting out the main aims of both the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and the Veterinary Surveillance Strategy. Recognising the important role of veterinary research in providing evidence to support our policies, we have brought the Veterinary Research Division within the Animal Health and Welfare Directorate General to harmonise Defra’s approach to Commissioning Research in the animal health and welfare arena. This rationale is reflected in the inclusion of their work within the same section of this report.


JM Scudamore CB, BSc, BVSc, MRCVS Chief Veterinary Officer and Director General Animal Health and Welfare
The number of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) cases continued to decline during 2003. As a result in June the UK was able to submit a paper to the Commission showing that the incidence of BSE was expected to fall below the world animal health organisation (OIE) threshold for transition from high to moderate risk status towards the end of 2003. This is important to enable the UK to be subject to the same export controls as member states that have similar levels of disease in animals born after July 1996. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has assessed the data and has confirmed that the UK’s BSE risk status should be the same as most other European countries later this year. Changes to EU legislation will be needed to amend EU controls on UK beef exports but these developments take us closer to that goal.

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) and the Government’s control measures had a high profile during 2003, notably the decision in November to suspend the reactive culling element of the randomised badger culling trial, though the proactive and survey only elements of the trial continue as before. Efforts are being made to understand why TB increased in these areas and we continue to review our controls and strategy.

In conclusion, I would like to offer my thanks to all my staff who have continued to show great commitment and a high level of expertise in developing and implementing national policies, and in consistently meeting the challenges presented to them, not just over the last year, but for the duration of my time as Chief Veterinary Officer. Finally, I would like to welcome Dr Debby Reynolds as my successor, and I wish her well for the future.

Summary

During 2003 great strides were made towards developing an Animal Health and Welfare Strategy (AHWS) for Great Britain, which is due for launch in early summer 2004. This strategy, borne out of a recommendation from the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food in January 2002, and by the foot and mouth disease (FMD) inquiries, seeks to establish a 10 year national strategy and delivery plan for animal health and welfare.

The strategy has been developed in partnership with the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly Government. It gathers together information on priorities and longterm aims through a productive consultation exercise and regular meetings with interested parties including vets, livestock farming groups, educational establishments and representatives from the animal health and food retailing sectors. Separate implementation plans, setting out how the 16 new initiatives will be taken forward, were published for England, Scotland and Wales in December and will be updated later in the year. The Veterinary Surveillance Strategy (VSS), which aims to improve the systematic collection and collation of information on disease, infection, intoxication and welfare in farmed, wild and companion animals, was also launched in 2003.

Both the AHWS and the VSS are explained elsewhere in this report along with the role our veterinary research division undertakes, in order to present a Strategic Overview of animal health and welfare. Many thanks to all those involved in developing these key policies for their invaluable input, and it is hoped that the close working relationship with the industry is maintained beyond the launch and throughout the implementation process.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) cases continued to decline as the number of animals tested through the targeted surveillance programme increased. On this basis the European Union (EU) has been lobbied for a reduction of the UK’s BSE status to ‘moderate’, which would facilitate the abolition of the beef export ban. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has assessed the data and confirmed that our BSE risk status should be the same as most other European countries later this year, subsequent to EU legislation changes. Proposals by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to replace the over thirty month rule have been considered by Rural Affairs Ministers and are currently under further consideration by Health Ministers.

Research continued into the experimental transmission of BSE in sheep, and a draft contingency plan is being developed in partnership with the Department of Health, the FSA and the Devolved Administrations in the event BSE is identified in sheep or goats. The number of reported scrapie cases also declined and an increasing number of sheep have now been tested under the National Scrapie Plan (NSP). Work also began in partnership with interested parties on developing a long-term strategy for the NSP.

A livestock identification and tracing programme was established in 2003, which through new IT systems and policy developments will improve the gathering and use of data on livestock, while EU legislation requiring all horses to have a passport was implemented. This will in due course be supported by a national database containing breeding and performance information.

In November Ministers announced the suspension of one element of the bovine tuberculosis (TB) randomised badger culling trial, following advice from the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB that the incidence of bovine TB in reactive culling trial areas had increased over that in areas where no culling had taken place. The reason for this is under investigation, but it has been agreed that the proactive and survey only elements of the trial will continue. The ISG estimates that the full set of trial data will be available during 2006. Following the re-start of the TB control programme, disrupted by the foot and mouth disease (FMD) epidemic in 2001, the backlog of tests was gradually reduced and is now at its pre-FMD level.

Post-FMD policies continued to be developed and implemented and saw a reduction in the 20 day standstill period for cattle, sheep and goats down to six days in England and Wales and 13 days in Scotland. Future arrangements will focus more on biosecurity than movement rules. This Department played a pivotal role in shaping the new EU FMD Directive during negotiations, and this Directive was adopted in September. The Directive seeks to update existing legislation to account for the progress and experience gained during 2001, and this legislation now addresses many of the issues identified during the FMD inquiries. The EU-wide ban on routine vaccination remains, but in the event of an outbreak there is now greater scope for adopting emergency vaccination in addition to slaughter as a basic control policy.

Four cases of brucellosis in imported cattle were recorded in Scotland during 2003, the first outbreak of this disease recorded in Great Britain since 1993. The brucellosis surveillance programme ensured that the infected animals and all dangerous contacts were quickly traced, and resulted in the slaughter of nearly 400 cattle to ensure that GB remained an EU recognised brucellosisfree region. Although brucellosis has not been discovered in the national pig herd, the infection is common amongst wild boar and feral pigs in mainland Europe so the brucellosis surveillance programme has now been extended to cover pig herds.

Following an outbreak of avian influenza in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany during 2003 Defra began to look further, in consultation with industry, into control measures, and decisions on these deliberations are expected in 2004. The discovery of two incidents of European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV) in bats in 2002, one tragically leading to the death of a bat worker, has led to increased surveillance of EBLV in bats.

From January 2003 the EU strengthened its rules against the risk of disease by restricting the import into the EU of products of animal origin from Third Countries. A few months later in April, Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise (HMCE) took over responsibility for all antismuggling activity. Both these measures were welcomed as improvements to prevent the import of exotic diseases into Great Britain.

On the other side of the trading line a new EU web based Trade and Control Expert System (TRACES), to issue and monitor export health certificates for intra-Community trade in live animals, their products and germplasm, has been developed and is due to go live from May 2004.

The UK’s compliance with a Council Directive setting minimum standards for the welfare of farmed animals was challenged during 2003. The Department, working in conjunction with the poultry industry, contested the claim of incorrect implementation, and at a judicial review in October was vindicated of all charges and judged to have the appropriate legal provisions in place to protect the welfare of chickens. As well as consolidating over 20 existing pieces of legislation, the proposed Animal Welfare Bill will also create a new offence covering the failure to ensure the welfare of owned or kept animals. Wider powers to develop regulations will allow Britain to meet EU obligations, and will promote and enshrine good practice in relation to licensing, registration and inspection to ensure animal welfare standards.

Link to main report

To read the full report, including tables (PDF - 159 pages) Click here

Source: Defra - July 2004