Animal health surveillance cuts jeopardise public wellbeing
Reductions to farm animal health surveillance could risk harmful diseases going undetected and jeopardise public wellbeing in Britain, the Royal College of Pathologists (RCP) have warned.
RCP said that human health could be in danger as the cuts threaten to heighten the risk of contracting serious illnesses such as the mad cow disease.
The organisation is summoning for an urgent review of the plans to cut the number of animal health surveillance laboratories in England and Wales from 14 to seven.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said that the plan to decrease the number of labs by 50 per cent is part of an “improved approach”.
RCP president Dr Archie Prentice argued that: “The risk is that if we can’t detect an animal infection quickly, it can then spread throughout animal livestock, which is worth £11billion to this country. More importantly, the risk is that it can spread to humans before it can be identified in the animal stock.”
One of the major concerns of the experts is – the chronic nature of the illnesses – that could lead to potential epidemics.
Dr Prentice said: “We are always going to see new organisms that we haven’t seen before and we are always going to see old organisms that we thought had been brought under control, reappearing. So if you don’t have this early detection system around, your chance of picking this up is much less.”
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) – the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has killed 174 people. The disease first emerged in cattle in 1986 as pathologists identified, surveyed and helped generate a response to the outbreak.
Many suggest that the cuts indicate an irretrievable loss of expertise and would make Britain more vulnerable to BSE-type infections in the future.
The Animal Health and Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) have also identified other diseases such as swine fever, Schmallenberg virus, blue tongue and most recently spotted the crossover of tuberculosis (TB) from domestic cats to humans.
Disappointed about the cuts Dr Prentice commented: “I don’t know anybody who is happy about this. We know from what some of the officials at Defra and AHVLA have told us that they wouldn’t do this if they hadn’t been under such pressure to cut costs.”
The plans mean that vets will need to complete extra training in pathology and autopsies might have to be performed on site at farms or in slaughterhouses.
For some farmers, it might even become necessary to securely transport larger livestock carcasses themselves to centres much further away.
However, AHVLA believes this is an “improved approach” to surveillance.
According to the agency, now it will not just rely on government post-mortems but will also utilise the expertise of private vets, universities and the livestock industry.
An AHVLA official said: “Far from a loss of expertise, there is a greater emphasis on developing the specific skills of pathology and epidemiology within AHVLA which are so highly valued.”