Millions of animals could be needlessly slaughtered and billions of euros lost from economies, unless the world backs an international science team to develop new tools to fight foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), claims a network of scientists this week.
Researchers from the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, and Australia, are leading a call for international support for a five-year research project to develop a more effective FMD vaccine and better diagnostic tests that would enable livestock disease control agencies to isolate and eventually eliminate the disease.
"Foot-and-mouth disease is a global problem and it requires a global solution," said project leader, Dr Martyn Jeggo, Director of CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL). "Most countries probably can't afford the burden of funding the necessary research, but the world cannot afford to sit back and do nothing. That's why we shall call on international donors for support."
The group puts a $60 million bill for the cost of the project. A sum that is paltry compared to the approximate $12 billion cost of the 2001 FMD outbreak in the UK, added Dr Martyn Jeggo.
Dr David Paton from the Institute for Animal Health in the UK commented that currently available FMD vaccines can protect animals from becoming sick but not from becoming infected with the virus. In addition they require several days to confer protection.
"In five years we aim to deliver more effective FMD vaccines and sophisticated diagnostic tests which will ensure a longer duration of immunity and that vaccinated animals are not confused with infected animals," said Dr Paton.
As well as the UK and Australia, other members of the network include the United States' Plum Island Animal Disease Center, and Canada's National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease.
"Ultimately our aim has got to be better control of FMD in those parts of the world where the disease remains endemic. The Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme is a success story that could be copied in the case of FMD," concluded Dr. Paton.