Banning livestock movement between farms and effectively shutting the countryside in the face of another foot- and-mouth (FMD) outbreak may not be the best approach, according to new research from Warwick University.
UK policy centres on imposition of a national movement ban in the event of an FMD outbreak, but the research evidence is that this could be hugely damaging economically and might not be necessary as a more localised ban would likely be just as successful in halting the spread of disease.
The university researchers, who also looked at outbreak control measures regarding bovine TB and bluetongue virus, argue that livestock movement bans need to be carefully matched to the control and economic consequences of a disease and that optimal movement bans might work better than blanket action.
While accepting a national ban on livestock movement was an appropriate initial response to the 2001 FMD outbreak given its widely dispersed nature, the Warwick team concluded the same policy caused potentially avoidable economic harm in the 2007 FMD outbreak.
“In the 2001 outbreak, the movement of cattle, sheep and other livestock was generally banned in an effort to prevent the spread of infection,” they said, pointing out that issuing what amounted to a general message that “the countryside is closed” resulted in enormous losses to the tourist industry.
Subsequent estimates put the cost for the UK of the 2001 ban at £8 billion, of which around £2-3bn were losses to tourism.
The 2007 FMD outbreak, meanwhile, was much more localised, only infecting eight farms. Nevertheless, it is still estimated to have cost the UK £147m, much of which was attributable to large-scale movement bans.