Controlling animal disease
We control different types of animal diseases in different ways.
Some diseases are classified as ‘notifiable diseases’, because there’s a legal requirement to notify the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agency (AHVLA) if you suspect an animal has one of these diseases.
‘Exotic’ diseases are diseases that aren’t normally present in the UK, but can be introduced, for example, by wild birds. Some of these diseases are notifiable.
‘Zoonotic’ diseases are diseases like rabies, which can be passed from animals to humans. Again, some zoonotic diseases are notifiable.
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which include BSE in cattle, are a group of brain diseases. All TSEs are notifiable.
Controlling notifiable diseases
EU law requires all member states to control certain notifiable diseases.
As required by EU directives, we have contingency plans which set out what Defra, our agencies and people who keep animals must do if there is an outbreak of an exotic notifiable disease.
We review these contingency plans every year, so we can take into account any lessons learned from incidents of disease, public consultations or the trial exercises we carry out.
The Great Britain and Northern Ireland contingency plan outlines how all the administrations work together in case of an outbreak. The devolved administrations each have their own contingency plans.
Testing our response to outbreaks of disease
We regularly test our contingency plans and related processes and procedures.
In 2010, we ran a national exercise, Exercise Silver Birch, to test our response to a large-scale outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, and published an evaluation report.
In 2013 we ran another large scale exercise testing our response to an outbreak of Classical Swine Fever. An evaluation report for Exercise Walnut has been published.
Exotic notifiable disease control strategies
We’ve collaborated with the AHVLA and other stakeholders to develop disease control strategies for many important notifiable exotic diseases, including:
- Notifiable avian disease control strategy for Great Britain
- Foot and Mouth disease control strategy for Great Britain
- Rabies disease control strategy for England and Wales
- Bluetongue disease control strategy for Great Britain
- African Horse Sickness control strategy for Great Britain
- African and classical swine fever disease control strategy for Great Britain
Other important guidance includes:
- Vaccination: A control tool for exotic animal disease
- Control of fresh meat during an exotic disease outbreak
- Animals and birds potentially eligible to be spared from a culling policy
Controlling zoonotic diseases
There are over 70 recognised zoonotic diseases, of which some are commonly found in the UK.
Some zoonotic diseases are notifiable and covered in our contingency plans and control strategies. Others are ‘reportable’ diseases, which means that if a laboratory finds evidence of the disease, they must report it to the AHVLA.
There are also other zoonotic diseases that don’t have specific legal measures. Their control is dealt with by vets and animal keepers.
Salmonella national control programmes
We’re required by EU law (the EU Zoonoses Regulation No 2160/2003) to check for and control Salmonella through agreed national control programmes. Currently, we have national control programmes for breeding hens, laying hens, broilers and turkeys. The regulation allows for other diseases and other species to be added in the future.
We also publish accompanying guidance and codes of practice for the control of Salmonella.
Testing under the Salmonella national control programmes must be carried out in approved laboratories. Sampling kits are provided by approved laboratories or AHVLA.
Reports on zoonotic diseases
There are two sets of annual reports on zoonotic diseases available that can be found on the EFSA website.
- UK Zoonoses report, a summary of reported cases and trends of zoonotic infection in humans, animals, food and feedstuffs in the UK
- Zoonotic diseases (zoonoses): guidance, data and analysis
- Zoonoses trends and sources reports is a summary of trends and sources of zoonoses of relevance to public health in the whole European Community, as well as of national relevance. Other important guidance includes:
- Advice to pregnant women to avoid close contact with animals that are giving birth
- Common Zoonoses in Agriculture
- Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions - advice to businesses and the public
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are a group of progressive and deadly brain diseases, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, scrapie in sheep and goats and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans. All TSEs are notifiable.
TSE controls are firmly based on scientific evidence. Protecting human health, where there’s any risk, is the first priority.
We take a range of actions to prevent and control TSEs. These include:
- controlling what goes into animal feed, which helps prevent animals from getting TSEs
- specifying the parts of animals that must be removed and disposed of at slaughter, so they can’t enter the animal or human food chain – called specified risk material controls
- excluding from the food chain all cattle born or reared in the UK before the reinforced feed ban came into force in August 1996
- testing cattle and sheep for TSEs, and meeting EU requirements to do so
- investigating, monitoring, slaughtering and other measures if a TSE is found, depending on the disease
Possible changes to TSE rules
The EC is considering various future policy options for changes to the TSE controls, while making sure we maintain a high level of food safety and protection of animal health.
The Commission’s TSE Roadmap 2 outlines possible amendments to EU TSE rules over the period 2010 to 2015. The aim is to continue to review the measures, to ensure that they are proportionate to the risk, while assuring a high level of food safety.
Amendments to EU TSE rules will be supported by scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The Council and European Parliament have endorsed the TSE Roadmap 2. The Commission’s initial priorities were review of BSE testing, the feed ban and scrapie controls.