UK farms remain “vulnerable” to diseases spreading across Europe

Getting a robust animal disease strategy in place across the EU before the next big disease challenge occurs could be vital to the UK agricultural industry says the National Farmers Union (NFU) chief adviser for animal health and welfare, Catherine McLaughlin.

Commenting on a recent visit to Latvia to take part in an EU animal health workshop, including a separate focus on the pig sector, she highlighted the constant risk of diseases spreading across Europe, passing through many different farming environments.

“We sometimes forget in the UK how lucky we are when it comes to disease control,” added Ms McLaughlin, writing in a blog on the NFU website.  “We are an island surrounded by an ocean barrier and have a farming and veterinary infrastructure which allows us to predict and manage disease risk incursion as much as possible. Many European countries are not so lucky.

“They have large numbers of ‘backyard farms’, relatively scant information networks for farmers and food producers, land borders bringing wildlife into direct contact with domestic animals and some have less capacity for effective veterinary interventions. These infrastructures, social and geographic challenges make them vulnerable to disease incursions from the east and south – but this also makes us, and the rest of Europe, vulnerable to such diseases as well.”

Concluding that there was no “one size fits all” solution to Europe’s animal disease challenge, she said it was clear that farmers in England and Wales must adapt their own biosecurity to cope with such risks.

Concerning the event’s pig sector workshop, which focused on classical swine fever (CSF), she said the divide in biosecurity practise between the North and Western European countries and the South and Eastern ones was “wide”.

The session duly identified five points of biosecurity action, to be addressed in search of better protection levels against CSF.  These were:

  • assessing how farms are managed in terms of throughput, staffing, isolation facilities, etc;
  • the need for an awareness raising campaign amongst pig keepers so that even backyard operators understand the seriousness of a CSF outbreak;
  • when an outbreak occurs, there needs to be a regionalisation and categorisation of risk and movement controls required to help control, contain or stamp out the disease;
  • cleansing and disinfection needs to be given more focus;
  • surveillance at every level must become a daily reality, regardless of the size of farm enterprise.

As for what happens next, the meeting agreed that biosecurity guidance, for all species, needs to be “developed and shared with member states to encourage and incentivise changes in behaviour amongst animal keepers not already engaged with biosecurity best practise”. 

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