New research suggests movement bans to help control livestock diseases should be ‘more localised’ rather than national.
The research, from the University of Warwick, focused on foot-and-mouth disease, bovine TB and bluetongue.
By using predictive models to examine the consequences of different control options, researchers concluded the current UK Government policy of national movement bans when an outbreak of foot-and mouth disease is detected, and large-radius bans for bluetongue may cause ‘unnecessary economic harm’.
Instead, a more localised movement ban could be as successful in halting the spread of disease, and would limit the subsequent negative economic impact.
Dr Mike Tildesley, who led the research, says: “Our research says movement controls need to be carefully matched to both the epidemiological and economic consequences of the disease, and optimal movement bans are often far shorter than existing policy.
“For example, our work suggests movement bans of between 15-60km are optimal for foot-and-mouth disease, with larger radii preferable if tourism losses can be ignored, while for bluetongue virus, the optimal policy is to allow all movements.
“Adopting these optimal movement bans could lead to vast savings compared to more stringent policies.
“We fully recognise the need for the Government to rapidly contain novel outbreaks in the face of uncertainty, but our work suggests optimal movement bans should be enacted as soon as possible.”
From an economic perspective, movement restrictions have a huge impact on the industry as it relies on the movement of animals, both between farms and from farm to slaughter, to make a profit.
There is also wider reaching implications that come from movement bans. For example, there were losses to the tourist industry following the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, where the message was that ‘the countryside is closed’.
Researchers argue that while livestock movements bring the risk of long-range spread of infection, this risk is strongest from farms in close proximity to where infections have been detected.
Therefore, a limited movement ban, only preventing movements from farms near to known cases, brings most of the benefits but less of the economic costs.
By not automatically implementing national bans during foot-and-mouth disease or bluetongue virus outbreaks, geographical regions unaffected by the outbreak would not face the same economic impact caused by the restrictions put in place by a national ban.
The researchers concede that while a national ban on livestock movement was an appropriate initial response to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2001, given its widely dispersed nature, the policy caused potentially avoidable economic harm in the outbreak of 2007.
When looking at bTB, research suggests the economic cost of any movement ban is more than the epidemiological benefits.
However, if tests are sufficiently cheap, a localised testing programme around infected farms could be economically viable in the long-term.