For many livestock farmers, the recent suspected outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Norfolk will have revived unwelcome memories of the devastating impact of the disease’s uncontrolled spread throughout the UK in 2001.
Twenty-one years ago, infections led to the culling and destruction of more than six million cattle, sheep and pigs, restricted movement of people, cancelled events and even a delayed General Election – ultimately destroying livelihoods and costing the UK economy more than £7 billion.1 Thankfully, this year’s suspected outbreak – which began on a pig farm in Norfolk on the 23 June – has proven a false alarm, at least when it comes to foot and mouth. DEFRA testing found no evidence of foot and mouth disease or swine vesicular disease (SVD), and a temporary control zone was lifted the following day.2
Norfolk foot and mouth scare: A timely warning
All the same, the news of the potential outbreak serves as a timely reminder that there can be no let-up when it comes to biosecurity on farms – at a time when the war in Ukraine is already threatening food security, an uncontrolled outbreak like that in 2001 would have far-reaching consequences.3
Indeed, the fact that there is no suggestion of lax disease control being a factor in Norfolk serves to remind us that infections can happen despite the best efforts of farmers in a sector where biosecurity controls have been improved significantly over the last 20 years.4
In the wake of the news from Norfolk, it seems likely that livestock farmers across the country will be looking closely at their own infection risk management practices – from farm biosecurity to loss mitigation – in the event the worst should happen.
Foot and mouth disease and biosecurity
Today, the infection control measures recommended by DEFRA are well known and understood, but it is always worth reviewing their application in practice, to ensure standards do not slip and new best practices are always observed.
The latest DEFRA guidance on disease prevention for livestock and poultry keepers is available online, but some of the latest tips from industry experts include:
- Keeping different species of livestock separate where possible.
- Avoiding visits to other farms or meeting other livestock keepers unless absolutely necessary.
- Checking stock regularly and being aware that sheep and pigs may not always show the most obvious signs of the disease – mouth lesions. For a refresher on recognising the signs of an outbreak, take a look at DEFRA’s photos of the clinical signs of foot and mouth disease.
- Meticulous cleaning, to avoid spreading the foot and mouth virus between farms – for instance on clothes, boots, equipment or vehicles.
- Making use of disposable overalls and alcohol hand cleansers.
- Ensuring disinfectant and cleaning materials are available at your farm entrance, so that essential visitors can disinfect themselves when arriving and leaving.
- Keeping a log of visitors to the farm, including their previous and next destinations.
Similarly, despite the best of intentions, mistakes and over-sights happen - and some common disease control errors to avoid include:5
- Infrequent footbath replenishment: Footbaths that are not refreshed at least once a day can end up harbouring infection, not preventing it.
- Ineffective cleaning: Disinfectants won’t work if dirt is present, so all footwear and vehicles should be cleaned before disinfection.
- Inappropriate disinfectants: Using the right product at the correct concentration is vital, and DEFRA guidance on approved disinfectants is available online.
- Poor vehicle disinfection: Straw or carpet mats soaked in disinfectant may not fully sanitise vehicles or footwear. Use a footbath, drive-through wash or high-pressure sprayer for best results.
Minimising losses from livestock disease: The role of insurance
As we have seen in Norfolk, outbreaks can occur at any time, without warning – and, while the control zone has been lifted, the individual farm affected remains under DEFRA restriction.6
The fact is, animal and poultry disease outbreaks are unpredictable and can be financially crippling,7 and this is where farm insurance can play a vital role. In particular, livestock disease cover, added to the main farm policy, can help to mitigate financial losses in the event of an outbreak.
However, it is worth remembering that livestock disease cover must be in place before a notified outbreak is underway, so thinking ahead and putting insurance protection in place now could be a crucial precaution if the worst should happen.
Here to help
If you are concerned about the risk from foot and mouth and want to talk to an expert about biosecurity and disease prevention, contact one of our farming specialists for advice, or read the latest DEFRA guidance on preventing and controlling foot and mouth disease.
- gov.uk/foot-and-mouth-disease - preventing-and-controlling-foot-and-mouth-disease