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British Farms Declared Free of Foot and Mouth Disease

British officials declared the farms free from the disease last week, but James Pearson, head of the Paris-based International Epizootic Office Scientific and Technical Department, said a special panel had approved Britain’s application for the status Tuesday.

More than four million animals were slaughtered in Britain last year because of the livestock plague. The foot-and-mouth breakout forced many farmers out of business and cost the government billions of pounds. Britain’s new disease-free status is expected to lift some costly international trade sanctions.

Britain will now be allowed to resume exports of meat and dairy products to parts of Europe that are not a part of the European Union, and will no longer be required to vaccinate livestock.

Mandatory vaccinations could have resulted in additional economic losses to the livestock industry because some countries will not accept meat and animal imports from areas that vaccinate. Some scientists say the vaccine can mask the presence of foot-and-mouth disease in tests and inoculated animals can potentially carry the disease.

British officials say the disease-free status is a welcome change.

“I am pleased that the European Commission and other Member States appreciated the need for exports from Great Britain to resume as soon as possible. The decision is particularly welcome since it comes sooner than many had realistically expected,” said Lord Larry Whitty, the parliamentary under secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The lifting of sanctions, however, unlocks only one barrier restricting British cattle exports, officials say. Most European Union countries will still block shipments of cattle products from the UK due to fears of Mad Cow Disease, or BSE, which also struck Britain’s herds in recent years.

“Exports of British cattle to other EU Member States are prohibited due to rules on BSE. The lifting of EU [foot and mouth disease] restrictions therefore only relate, in practice, to British cattle exports to Northern Ireland,” a statement from the British Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs says.

Foot-and-mouth disease is said to be harmless to humans, but debilitating to animals, leading to weight loss and reduced milk production.

Last year’s outbreak also infected animals in Ireland, the Netherlands and France. The International Epizootic Office declared those countries disease-free in September.

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