FOOT AND MOUTH: Questions and answers on EU vaccination policy

Brussels, 19 March 2001 - Why is there currently no vaccination in the EU against FMD? Will the Commission review its non-vaccination policy? Is over-regulation, forcing the closing of small abattoirs, a factor? Is the large scale transport of animals the cause of the current outbreak? Is intensive farming at the origin of the disease? Is there financial compensation available to producers?
calendar icon 20 March 2001
clock icon 6 minute read
Why is there currently no vaccination in the EU against FMD?
  • Vaccination was abandoned in 1991 because the EU had successfully eradicated FMD. This decision has saved over €1 billion and allowed EU producers to export to countries which only allow imports from FMD-free countries not following a vaccination policy.

  • However, the Community does maintain a antigen bank with up to 30 million vaccine doses of antigen (8,5 million for the current O-1 strain present in the UK and in Mayenne in France). These are envisaged in a situation where there is an outbreak of epidemic proportions where the authorities must introduce "preventive vaccination", i.e. action to halt the spread of the disease pending the killing and subsequent destruction of potentially contaminated animals. However, following first inoculation of the vaccine, it would take some time to have a sufficiently strong immunity.
Will the Commission review its non-vaccination policy?
  • Vaccinated animals are not necessarily disease free - the antigens build up through vaccination can hide the actual presence of FMD in an animal.
  • There are very significant logistical and cost implications in vaccination, twice yearly, of a Community livestock population of over 300 million susceptible animals.
  • Vaccination is only effective in relation to the strain of FMD concerned and offers no protection against other strains of the virus. At present 7 strains of the FMD virus exist with around 80 subtypes. Every vaccination has to target therefore carefully the correct strain. Third countries which do vaccinate on a preventive basis because FMD is endemic on their territory do regularly see new outbreaks of FMD due to the variability of the virus.
  • Finally, the loss of the EU's non-vaccination status would involve substantial losses in trade to third countries which insist on imports from foot and mouth free countries. The EU could only export products which are treated against the virus.
The status of "FMD-free without vaccination" is attributed by the International Organisation on Animal Health (OIE) in Paris. Only 1/3 of the world are approximately FMD-free. See also:

In summary, therefore, the disadvantages of vaccination outweigh the benefits. Nonetheless, this situation will be kept under review.

Is over-regulation, forcing the closing of small abattoirs, a factor?

Competitive forces and especially economies of scale, are recognised to be the major factor in rationalisation in the abattoir industry. The illegal import of contaminated meat remains the most likely cause of the current outbreak. More generally, the question of hygiene regulation in abattoirs should take into account that the current outbreak was discovered through an ante-mortem inspection by a well trained official veterinarian. His presence in the abattoir is a requirement under Community law and is designed to ensure that diseases which are a potential threat to human and animal health, including BSE but also FMD, are detected. It would be dangerous to abandon the principle of high and uniform hygiene standards in abattoirs in all Member States. Such an approach would be a backward step in ensuring a high level of health protection.

Is the large scale transport of animals the cause of the current outbreak?

Clearly, any process which brings animals from different herds together in a single place or exposes them to large numbers of other animals increases the potential for the spread of disease. But:
  • Most trade in meat and meat products is in carcass form and the number of animals in long distance transport is in constant decline ever since refrigeration allowed animal carcasses to be transported over long distances;
  • Regulations exist to minimise the potential spread of disease in transport, including "no-exit" provisions on transport to abattoirs, tracability of livestock movements through the ANIMO system, disinfection of lorries and livestock marts, health certification of animals etc;
  • There will always be a need for long distance transport of specialised livestock (breeding stock, racehorses etc.).
However, it remains a Commission objective to further reduce the level of long distance animal transport and to improve the welfare conditions of animals in transport. A Commission report on animal transport was recently presented to the Council and Parliament in this respect.

Is intensive farming at the origin of the disease?

All contributory factors must be considered but very simple explanations for very complex problems should be avoided. FMD was eradicated in the EU in the late 80's which permitted an end to vaccination in 1991. Since 1991, there have only been outbreaks in Italy (1993), Greece (animal incursions from Turkey) and now in the UK. This is a very successful record given that prior to 1991, FMD outbreaks were commonplace with resulting huge trade, income and vaccination costs. Moreover:
  • FMD is most prevalent in countries/regions where agriculture is very "traditional" - Middle East/North Africa/Turkey/South America. Conversely, outbreaks are extremely rare in the OECD countries which have the most intensive agriculture;
  • Similarly, FMD was much more prevalent in the EU in the past, when agriculture was less intensive, than at present. There have only been a handful of cases since 1991 in Italy (1993) and in Greece (2000) in most recent years.
Is there financial compensation available to producers?

Yes, the Commission provides compensation, up to 60%, towards the costs of animals destroyed, disinfection etc under an Emergency Veterinary Fund. A total of €41 million is available towards such compensation in 2001. This is expected to be fully utilised in relation to payments to Member States in respect of animal disease outbreaks in previous years, notably avian influenza in Italy, bluetongue in Italy in France and in Spain, classical swine fever in the Netherlands and UK and FMD in Greece. Any claims arising from the current outbreak would, therefore, be likely to be reimbursed only in 2002.

However, based on the current scale of the outbreak, the costs are not likely to be significant.
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