Foot-and-Mouth Disease Epidemic in Great Britain in 2001
On February 19, 2001, a routine inspection at an abattoir near London revealed “highly suspicious” signs of foot-and-mouth disease in 27 pigs. The Ministry of Agriculture confirmed the outbreak and the next day set up a 5-mile exclusion zone around the abattoir. With increasing numbers of FMD cases reported on cattle and sheep farms 5 days after the initial case, the government announced plans to slaughter pigs, sheep, and cattle in affected areas in an attempt to eliminate the disease. As the outbreak continued through the end of the month, the ban on movement of livestock was extended. By early March, neighboring countries had begun investigating their own suspected cases of FMD and enhanced precautionary measures were initiated to prevent FMD from entering their countries. The epidemic, however, extended beyond England to other European countries, with Scotland, Northern Ireland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands responding with programs to destroy animals in affected areas.
At a meeting of European ministers on March 6, a proposal was made to extend the ban on British livestock exports until March 27. Veterinary experts recommended against mass vaccination, and the E.U. agriculture ministers concurred with their advice. Despite extensive efforts, the number of new unconfirmed cases reached 1,000 by the beginning of April. On April 26, the government announced a change in policy, ending the practice of slaughtering healthy, unaffected livestock on farms neighboring farms with animals showing suspicious signs. By May 8, restrictions on livestock movement were eased across the European Union.
The British government killed 6.5 million animals during the epidemic: about 4 million for disease control and an additional 2.5 million for reasons of animal welfare. The epidemic lasted 214 days and involved over 10,000 herds and flocks. Annual festivals and international sporting events were cancelled due to the epidemic and tourism declined substantially. The epidemic incurred losses to agriculture and tourism estimated to be at least £6.3 billion.
SOURCES: Thompson et al., 2002; Haydon et al., 2004.