The first case of foot-and-mouth disease in the present outbreak in Britain was confirmed on 3rd August in Surrey. Since then a total of eight cases have been confirmed in two separate clusters. The first cluster involved two cases around the village of Normandy and the second involved six cases to date centred on the village of Egham. To date the outbreak has remained confined to Surrey.
Immediately following the very first case and the first case in the second cluster on 12th September, I introduced a ban on the importation from Britain of live susceptible animals, fresh meat, raw milk and a range of other animal products from susceptible species. In each case, those bans were followed and superceded by EU Commission Decisions prohibiting the export from Britain of such animals and animal products.
I also instructed that disinfection facilities be installed at Irish ports and airports and my Department embarked on a communications strategy aimed at advising the agricultural community, the agri-food industry and the general public of the measures that had been put in place and of the need for farmers and veterinary practitioners to be particularly vigilant and to report any suspicions of disease to my Department.
All of our actions were based on the best veterinary, scientific and administrative advice available to me and my determination at all times has been to be proportionate and measured in my response to the threat posed by the ongoing outbreak. I and my officials continue to monitor very closely the developing situation and to keep the risk level and the appropriate response to that risk under constant review.
The first case of Bluetongue ever to be recorded in Britain was confirmed on Saturday 22nd September on a farm near Ipswich in Suffolk. Since then several further cases have been detected on a number of other premises in England. The strain has been confirmed as serotype 8 (the same strain as has been circulating in northern Europe since August 2006).
On 28th September, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Britain confirmed an outbreak of Bluetongue and immediately put in place the control measures required by the Council Directive 2000/75/EC. There is, already, as a result of the FMD outbreak in Britain, a ban on the importation from Britain of live animals.
There are no imports of susceptible livestock from restricted areas in Europe and all susceptible species imported from Bluetongue-free areas, apart from the U.K., are tested post-import and all have been negative for the disease. In view of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), exports of livestock from Britain are currently banned. If and when the FMD-related export restrictions on British animals are lifted, consideration will be given to introducing post-import tests on susceptible animals coming from Britain.
Following the outbreaks of Bluetongue in northern Europe, which began in August 2006, my Department embarked on a proactive surveillance programme that involved post-import blood testing of susceptible animals from affected countries and the random sampling of herds in counties in the south and south-east in which wind-blown midges might have made landfall, if blown here. In addition to the ongoing testing of animals from Bluetongue-free areas in Europe, my Department has engaged the Department of Zoology at NUI Galway to assist in carrying out a comprehensive surveillance survey of the midges that potentially spread the virus. In addition, my Department's laboratory service has been testing thousands of blood samples for any evidence of Bluetongue since earlier this year. My Department has also updated its contingency plans and legislative basis and has increased awareness by providing advice leaflets to farmers and the veterinary profession as well as having organised an industry seminar on bluetongue in July. Further comprehensive information is availableon my Department's bluetongue website —www.bluetongue.ie
The day-to-day management of the disease threat and the contingency arrangements is undertaken by the Management Committee of my Department's National Disease Control Centre, which has available to it a range of expert veterinary and scientific advice. This Committee, whose meetings I have regularly chaired, has been meeting frequently in response to the heightened disease threats posed by both FMD and Bluetongue.
The use of an outside advisory group with a range of disciplines is also part of my Department's contingency plan. This approach was used in relation to FMD and Avian ‘Flu in the past. Responsibility for taking decisions on the appropriate contingency arrangements to be applied would continue to be mine and that of my Department.
There is also a commitment in the Programme for Government to establish Biosecurity Ireland, as a separate Division within my Department, whose remit will be to ‘ensure the exclusion, eradication or effective management of risks posed by diseases and pests to the economy, the environment and to human and animal health.' This will enable my Department to even more effectively coordinate the existing breath of expertise already available. As with all commitments in the Programme, work on its implementation is continuing and I expect that it will be significantly progressed in the coming months.
I must emphasise, however, that I am absolutely satisfied that the measures introduced to date, in response to both disease outbreaks, have been taken on proper veterinary and scientific advice and that they are proportionate to the current risk. As that risk is reassessed, I will not hesitate to introduce such additional measures as are considered appropriate to any increased risk.