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WITH less than a week to go before this year's bva Congress it is already clear that there will be much to talk about, both in and around the main sessions. Top of the list will be foot-and-mouth disease (fmd) and, in particular, the reappearance of the disease in Surrey just a few days after the Government had announced that the disease had been eradicated following the two outbreaks in August. With the autumn sales approaching, this was devastating news for farmers and, although attempts have been made to alleviate some of the problems by allowing controlled movements of animals where possible, the movement restrictions imposed as a result of the new outbreaks are clearly causing difficulties.
It was also bad news for defra which, having published its final epidemiological report into the August outbreaks, along with two reports linking those outbreaks to the escape of virus from the Pirbright site, must have thought it had drawn a line under the affair. The virus involved in the latest outbreaks appears to be of the same strain as that involved in the outbreaks in August, and defra reports that epidemiological investigations are ongoing. Questions remain about how the virus might have found its way into the animals involved in the latest outbreaks and every means possible must be applied to ensure that these are resolved. This will be important not just in terms of lessons for the future. More immediately, in what defra has described as ‘a developing situation’, it will be important in helping to determine what might happen next.
At a press briefing in London on Wednesday this week, the Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Debby Reynolds, reported that postmortem examination of cattle on the latest premises on which the disease had been identified indicated that some of the lesions were more than 10 days old. She urged farmers to remain vigilant for fmd, commenting, ‘It is absolutely vital that farmers remain vigilant and adhere to strict biosecurity measures and licence conditions. This is a disease which can be easily spotted in its early stages. Immediate reporting of any suspicions is critical to the control of this disease.’
Farmer vigilance is undoubtedly vital to disease surveillance, but so, too, is veterinary involvement, and the latest outbreaks would again seem to emphasise an underlying need to get vets on to farms more often.
With the reappearance of fmd, a session at the bva Congress entitled ‘Containing national disease outbreaks: latest issues’, could hardly be more pertinent. Organised by the Association for Veterinary Teaching and Research Work, it can be expected to provide new insights into the tools available for investigating disease outbreaks and the control options available.
Diseases like fmd have significant financial implications, not just for farmers but for the economy as a whole. At a time when the uk, through its Animal Health and Welfare Strategy, and the European Commission, which is developing a new Community Animal Health Policy, are both looking at ways of transferring more of the costs and responsibilities for disease control to the industry, a congress debate on the implications of these policies is equally topical. Cost-sharing principles are already being applied in some sectors of the industry in some member states, and the debate will be informed by their experiences. Meanwhile, decisions made in Europe continue to have an impact on most aspects of veterinary life. The plenary lecture at the congress, to be given by mep Avril Doyle, will discuss some of the animal health issues currently under consideration in Brussels and what can be done to influence the outcome.
The current focus on fmd has eclipsed what is happening in other areas but there are plenty of other issues on the veterinary political agenda that can be expected to resurface once the current outbreak has been dealt with. Bovine tuberculosis, in particular, springs to mind, and a congress debate will consider the options available in the uk following the publication of the final report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle tb and, by making comparison with experiences of the disease in other countries, seek to identify appropriate solutions.
The congress is to be held in Belfast from September 27 to 29 and, in addition to the political elements, includes a substantial cpd programme contributed by bva divisions. Companion animal, farm animal and equine topics will be considered, along with practice management issues and issues relating to public health. As well as being relevant to practitioners, the programme reflects the breadth of their activities. By covering such a wide range of topics, it also serves to illustrate the many significant issues with which the profession is involved.
Details of the bva Congress, including the programme and information on how to register, are available from the bva's website at www.bva.co.uk