Animal Diseases

Animal diseases can have a large economic and social effect. The diseases which cause the most concern are those which are highly contagious, could cause high fatality rates amongst livestock, have the possibility of infecting humans, or are not currently present in the United Kingdom. Non-zoonotic diseases are those that are not generally considered to be transmitted to humans. While zoonotic notifiable animal diseases are those that can be transmitted naturally between vertebrate animals and humans.

There have been over 14 exotic disease outbreaks in the last 10 years including foot and mouth disease, avian influenza (bird flu) and bluetongue. The foot and mouth outbreak in 2000 was one of the key factors which led to the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act, due to its huge impact on the economy.

Wales has a thriving livestock industry and it is vital to protect the industry, farmers’ livelihoods and the economy of Wales from an exotic disease outbreak. It is crucial that any incursion of disease is quickly identified, controlled and eradicated. The Welsh Government takes action to prevent disease getting into the food chain by:

  • Monitoring animal movements.
  • Veterinary surveillance.
  • Ensuring that animals or meat from infected areas are not imported into Wales.

No matter which disease we are concerned about, the basic approach is the same:

  • Keep infection out.
  • Rapid early identification of the infection.
  • Stop infection spreading.
  • Stamp infection out and / or develop programmes to manage the problem.

The Animal Health and Welfare Strategy for Great Britain has been in place since June 2004 to improve the health and welfare of animals and protect the public health from animal disease. Major outbreaks of animal disease and the control policies which are used to contain them, have widespread adverse implications for many people beyond the obvious and direct effects on animal health, welfare and productivity.

The Strategy sets out how animal keepers should:

  • Maintain healthy animals.
  • Maintain appropriate levels of animal welfare.
  • Prevent and control endemic diseases.
  • Recognise symptoms and report notifiable disease.
  • Prevent spread of any disease.
  • Ensure adequate levels of stockmanship.
  • Ensure skills and competence levels are appropriate.

Impact of Animal Diseases

Animal diseases can have a large impact on an area. Some of the repercussions are:

  • Damage to local agricultural economy.
  • Mass cull / disposal of animal carcasses.
  • Loss of livelihoods for farmers and farm workers.
  • Health risks to farm workers.

Consequences of Animal Diseases

Some of the consequences of animal diseases are:

  • Long term psychological health impacts to farmers.
  • Increased food costs to consumers.
  • Knock on effect on tourism and other service industries, such as catering.
  • Damage to businesses that can never be repaired.

What can Farmers do?

  • All owners are responsible for the health and welfare of the animals in their care and need to understand and provide for their physical and welfare needs to maintain good disease prevention and control (biosecurity) practices.
  • Good stockmanship and vigilance will increase the chances of spotting disease amongst livestock. Farmers should ensure they know the basic signs that would alert them to the need to report disease.
  • Sick animals sound be cared for immediately and veterinary advice sought if the animal doesn’t respond to care. Sick animals should be isolated in a suitable place with dry, comfortable bedding.
  • If an outbreak is declared, follow any guidance from the government to protect livestock and limit the spread.

Defra is able to offer more advice on animal diseases to those concerned. While the Welsh Government has a contingency plan in place - Welsh Government Contingency Plan for Exotic Animal Diseases – for dealing with outbreaks.