2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth crisis

2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth crisis

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom in the spring and summer of 2001 caused a crisis in British agriculture and tourism. This epizootic saw 2,000 cases of the disease in farms in most of the British countryside. Over 10 million sheep and cattle were killed [cite news
last = Boyde
first = Carl
coauthors =
title = Inside Out
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publisher = BBC
date = 2007-10-31
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] in an eventually successful attempt to halt the disease. Cumbria was the worst affected area of the country, with 843 cases. With the intention of controlling the spread of the disease, public rights of way across land were closed by order. This damaged the popularity of the Lake District as a tourist destination. By the time the disease was halted by October 2001, the crisis was estimated to have cost the United Kingdom £8bn ($16bn), and had dominated much of the 2001 UK media coverage prior to September 11th.

The first case of the disease to be detected was at Cheale Meats abattoir in Little Warley, Essex on February 19, 2001. Over the next four days, several more cases were announced in Essex. On February 23 a case was confirmed in Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, from where the pig in the first case had come; this farm was later confirmed as the source of the outbreak and the owner, Bobby Waugh of Pallion, was convicted of failing to inform the authorities of a notifiable disease, and later of feeding his pigs "untreated waste". [cite news
last = Morris
first = Doug
coauthors =
title = A farmer's negligence
work =
pages =
language =
publisher = BBC
date = 2002-05-30
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2016461.stm
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] On February 24 a case was announced in Highampton in Devon. Later in the week north Wales was affected. By the beginning of March, the disease had spread to Cornwall, southern Scotland and the Lake District where it took a particularly strong hold.

By the end of March, the disease was at its height — up to 50 new cases a day. The effort to prevent the spread of the disease, which caused a complete ban of the sale of British pigs, sheep and cattle until the disease was confirmed eradicated, concentrated on a cull and then by burning all animals located near an infected farm. The complete halt on movement of livestock, cull, and extensive measures to prevent humans carrying the disease on their boots and clothing from one site to another, brought the disease under control during the summer. From May to September, about five cases per day were reported. The final case was reported on Whygill Head Farm near Appleby in Cumbria on September 30. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) downgraded to "high risk" the last area to be denoted "infected" on November 29. Restrictions on lifestock movement were retained into 2002.

The use of a vaccine to halt the spread of the disease was repeatedly considered during the outbreak, but the government never decided to use it after pressure from the National Farmers Union. Although the vaccine was believed to be effective, export rules would prevent the export of British livestock in the future, and it was decided that this was too great a price to pay, although this was controversial because the value of the export industry (£592 million per year; MAFF figures reported by the "Guardian" [cite news
last = Freedland
first = Jonathan
coauthors =
title = A catalogue of failures that discredits the whole system
work =
pages =
language =
publisher = Guardian
date = 2001-05-16
url = http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,491472,00.html
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] ) was small compared to losses to tourism resulting from the measures taken. Following the outbreak, the law was changed to allow vaccinations rather than just culling.

On April 8, 2001 the "Sunday Express" reported that a test-tube of the virus had been stolen from a lab at Porton Down in Wiltshire 2 months before the crisis. The paper claims to have seen documents confirming sheep in Wales with the disease as early as January. [cite news
last =
first =
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title = Stolen foot-and-mouth virus 'released deliberately'
work =
pages =
language =
publisher = BreakingNews.ie
date = 2001-04-08
url = http://archives.tcm.ie/breakingnews/2001/04/08/story9257.asp
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] It was suggested by authorities that Animal Rights activists may have stolen the virus, however this is unlikely since it is a Level 4 bio-weapons facility and therefore guarded by the military. [cite web
last = Key
first = Robert
authorlink = Robert Key (politician)
coauthors =
title = correspondence
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date = 2004-04-28
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The consensus today is that the FMD virus came from infected or contaminated meat that was part of the garbage being fed to pigs at Burnside Farm in Heddon-on-the-wall. DEFRA - Origin of the UK Foot and Mouth Disease Epidemic 2001 http://www.defra.gov.uk/footandmouth/pdf/fmdorigins1.pdf] The garbage had not been properly heat-sterilized and the virus had thus been allowed to infect the pigs.Seeing as FMD virus was apparently not present in the UK beforehand and given the import restrictions for meat from countries known to harbour FMD, it is likely that the infected meat had been illegally imported to the UK. Such imports are likely to be for the catering industry and a total ban on feeding of catering waste containing meat or meat products was introduced early in the epidemic.

pread to the rest of Europe

Several cases of foot and mouth were reported in the Republic of Ireland and mainland Europe, following unknowing transportation of infected animals from the UK. The cases sparked fears of a continent-wide pandemic, but these proved unfounded.

The Netherlands was the worst affected country outside the UK, suffering 25 cases. Vaccinations were used to halt the spread of the disease.

The Republic of Ireland suffered one case in a flock of sheep in Jenkinstown in County Louth in March 2001. A cull of healthy livestock around the farm was ordered. Irish special forces sniped wild animals capable of bearing the disease, such as deer, in the area. The outbreak greatly affected the Irish food and tourism industry. The 2001 Saint Patrick's Day festival was cancelled, but later rescheduled two months later in May. Severe precautionary measures had been in place throughout the Republic of Ireland since the outbreak of the disease in the UK, with most public events and gatherings cancelled, controls on farm access, and measures such as disinfectant mats at railway stations, public buildings and university campuses. "Causeway 2001", an Irish Scouting Jamboree was cancelled due to these measures. Some of Ireland's Six Nations rugby international were postponed until the autumn.

France suffered two cases, on 13 March and 23 March.

Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and Germany carried out some precautionary slaughters, but all tests eventually proved negative. Further false alarms that did not result in any culling were signalled in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Italy. All other European countries imposed livestock movement restrictions from infected or potentially infected countries.

The outbreak caused the delay by a month of the local elections. Part of the reason was that bringing together so many farmers at polling stations might cause extensive spread of the disease. However, more importantly, it was widely known before the outbreak that the Government had chosen the day of the local elections to hold the General Election. Holding a General Election during the height of the crisis was widely seen as impossible - Government work is much reduced during the four week campaign and it was seen as inappropriate to divert attention away from management of the crisis. The announcement was leaked to newspapers at the end of March. Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed the decision on April 2. Opposition leader William Hague concurred with the reasons for delay, and even suggested a further delay to ensure the crisis was truly over (though it was alleged that he was hoping the Tories would be more popular and do better at the coming election the later it took place, perhaps because of bad government handling of the foot and mouth situation [cite web
] . The general election was eventually held on June 7, along with the local elections. It was the first delay of an election since the Second World War.

Following the election, Blair announced a re-organisation of the government departments. Largely in response to the perceived failure of the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to respond to the outbreak quickly and effectively enough, the ministry was merged with elements of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to form the current department, DEFRA.


As the 2001 outbreak seemed to cause as much harm as the previous outbreak in 1967, there was a widespread government and public perception that little had been learnt from the previous epizootic (despite the publication in 1968 of a report, the Northumberland Inquiry, on the previous outbreak). In August 2001 therefore, in an effort to prevent this failure to learn from history from happening again, the UK Government launched three inquiries into various aspects of the crisis. They were:

*"Inquiry into the lessons to be learned from the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001". This independent inquiry was devoted specifically to the government's handling of the crisis. It was chaired by Sir Iain Anderson C.B.E. and reported in July 2002.
*"The Royal Society Inquiry into Infectious Diseases in Livestock". This inquiry examined the scientific aspects of the crisis, for instance the efficacy of vaccinations, the way the virus spreads and so on. It was chaired by Sir Brian Follett and also reported in July 2002.
*"Policy Commission On The Future Of Farming And Food". This inquiry focused on the long-term production and delivery of food within the country. It was chaired by Sir Donald Curry and reported in January 2002.

All three inquiries reported their findings to the public. However, the inquiries themselves took place in private. The lack of a full public inquiry into the crisis caused a group of farmers, business leaders and media organisations to lodge an appeal at the High Court against the government's decision not to hold such an inquiry. Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, had ruled out a public inquiry on the grounds that it would be too costly and take too long. After a four-day hearing, the court sided with Beckett and the Government.

An "Independent Inquiry into Foot and Mouth Disease in Scotland" initiated by the Royal Society of Edinburgh was chaired by Professor Ian Cunningham. This embraced not only the scientific aspects of the outbreak, but also economic, social and psychological effects of the event. The costs to Scottish agriculture of the FMD outbreak were estimated to be £231m and the loss of gross revenue to tourism to be between £200–250m for Scotland as a whole. There should be a regional laboratory in Scotland, and priority be given to the development of testing procedures, The delay in imposing a ban of all movements until the third day after confirmation, the use of less than transparent modelling techniques and the failure to call on more than a fraction of the considerable relevant scientific expertise available in Scotland were criticised. The case for emergency protective vaccination, without subsequent slaughter, was supported by the evidence and it was recommended that contingency plans should include emergency barrier, or ring. vaccination as an adjunct to slaughter in clinical cases. Reservations about the consumption of meat and milk from vaccinated animals were unjustified. The importance of biosecurity at all times and throughout the agricultural industry was emphasised and SEERAD (The Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department) should take the lead in establishing standards to be applied in normal times and at the start of an outbreak. A Chief Veterinary Officer (Scotland) should be appointed and a "Territorial Veterinary Army" formed from professionals to be called upon should need arise. Burial of carcasses, where conditions permit, is the preferred option for disposal of slaughtered animals. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) should have a clear role in contingency planning and management of any future emergency. There was a need for operational guidelines for slaughtermen. In formulating movement restriction, the dispersed nature of many holdings should be taken into account. There should be a clear and consistent strategy for compensation for slaughtered animals. The closing down of the country initially for no more than three weeks and then reopening in non-affected areas was recommended. Great importance was placed on contingency planning, on the need for regular exercises and on the setting up of an independent standing committee to monitor the maintenance of effective planning. In all, some twenty seven recommendations were made to the Scottish Executive.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council, an independent advisory body established by the Government in 1979, also published a report. Its recommendations including material from both The Royal Society Inquiry into Infectious Diseases in Livestock and the Independent Inquiry into Foot and Mouth Disease in Scotland.

Later reaction

In the light of the reports' extensive recommendations, in June 2004, DEFRA held a simulation exercise in five areas around the country to test new procedures to be employed in the event of a future outbreak. Unlike the outbreak in the 60s, the main reason that MAFF failed to respond quickly enough was the high level of cattle movement in the modern-day market: today, cattle are moved quickly up and down the country without tests for disease.


See also

* 2007 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak

External links

* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/uk/2001/foot_and_mouth/default.stm Special report on the crisis] from BBC News
* [http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/commissions/en/eufmd/eufmd.html European Commission for the control of foot and mouth disease homepage]
* [http://www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/fmd/ Cabinet Office homepage for the inquiries into the outbreak]
* [http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/inquiry/index.html Royal Society homepage for the Scientific inquiry]
* [http://archive.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/fmd/fmd_report/index.htm "Lessons learned" general inquiry homepage]
* [http://www.warmwell.com/footmoutheye.html Private Eye's "Not the Foot and Mouth report"]
* [http://www.royalsoced.org.uk/enquiries/footandmouth/index.htm Inquiry into Foot and Mouth Disease in Scotland. The Royal Society of Edinburgh, July 2002]
* [http://www.fawc.org.uk/pdf/ffconts.pdf Farm Animal Welfare Council Report]

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