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Cow hoof-and-mouth disease, more than just an animal health issue

This past October 4th the government declared a sanitary emergency in all Colombia and on the 11th of the same month they discovered a new hoof- and mouth disease outbreak in 2 cows and 27 pigs. Later a sanitary quarantine was established for the Colombian municipality’s involved and special swine vaccinations were ordered for the Colombian provinces of La Guajira and Cesar.

Since the end of the 90s when Law 395 of 1997 for controlling and eradicating cow hoof and mouth disease was issued, there have been many technical and economic efforts carried out in order to achieve the coveted Animal World Health Organization (OIE) 2009 award: “Colombia, cow hoof and mouth disease-free due to vaccination.” However, if then it was difficult to obtain this certification, the recent incidents show that the task was just beginning.

Although obviously, the current emergency shows an animal health issue, it is possible to say that the latest outbreaks are the sum of multiple additional factors.

A profound analysis of the current vaccination system and of the conventional information processing systems used to date, linked to evolutionary dynamics of the cattle ranching activities, determine that it is necessary to include in the solution a new input package that will allow understanding the animal population growth patterns to relate them to possible disease entry risks or transmission as with the vaccination and control strategies.

Although an essential pillar has been compulsory vaccination every couple of years, it cannot be forgotten that the success of this process depends greatly on the validation and analysis of the information gathered through the Unique Vaccination Registry (UVR) as well as the robust nature of the biosafety and traceability systems in order to guarantee an optimal sanitary status.

The current policies for implementing traceability systems have been unsuccessful in hindering the appearance of outbreaks. Some key inputs for these policies are the aspects related to animal mobility; cattle concentrations; the presence of different susceptible species; the distance between cattle farms and mobilization routes; the type of productive model and its relation to the environmental season; the closeness of the frontier; type of landscape and the change in the country’s livestock inventory.

Fighting unlawfulness

It is clear that for enforcement and follow-up greater interaction and propositional capacity is needed both for the responsible for control institutions within the different links of the productive chain as with the cattle ranchers.

The current situation is complex and has been subject to abrupt changes in the leadership within the industry and to the production cost increments, whose official schemes for compulsory disease control are one of the most costly, if the consequences of the sanitary strategies are considered and linked to the appearance of outbreaks (sacrificing animals and market closure).

Other factors to consider are the unlawfulness associated to the marketing of foreign cattle or animal products (milk, cheese, meat) at prices that do not compete loyally with the Colombian production, which negatively impacts producers and detracts from their efforts to maintain the sanitary status.

A common scenario is a confrontation between national producers and sanitary authorities for the application of regulations that do not cover animals or animal products coming from illegal markets which grow on a day to day basis and for which the control strategies have not had any effect. This excessive illegality benefits only a few but risks the economic stability of different actors which work lawfully.

The success of the process would be guaranteed with an inter-institutional and industry action allowing comprehensive actions and ethic management of the information in all levels of the productive chain, involving all actors (from ranches to authorities) into taking decisions with respect to designing policies, concepts and methods for biosafety, biocontention and epidemiological analysis, data mining and implementation and use of geographical information among others, that would contribute to building and maintaining a sanitary status.

Recent outbreaks

Although for eight years there were not hoof and mouth disease outbreaks in Colombia, this situation was abruptly altered in June of 2017 when an outbreak was reported in the Province of Arauca with 7 infected animals.

Following the protocols established by the OIE, the Colombian Agricultural and Livestock Institute (ICA, for its Spanish acronym) quarantine was ordered for the Province of Arauca and the impacted municipalities, and the entry or exit of animals in the Province of Casanare was banned. Furthermore, they sacrificed 297 animals and a national sanitary emergency was declared for a year, this led the country to temporary lose its “vaccination free certification.”

In July of 2017, when ICA declared the outbreak controlled in Arauca, there was another outbreak in the Province of Cundinamarca with 134 infected animals. Then another quarantine was ordered for several Colombian provinces including Yacopí, Caparrapí, La Palma, Topaipí and Puerto Salgar (Province of Cundinamarca); La Dorada (Province of Caldas); Puerto Boyacá (Province of Boyacá); Puerto Triunfo, Puerto Nare, Puerto Berrío and Sonsón (Province of Antioquia), and Cimitarra and Bolívar (Province of Santander). Furthermore, they discovered two new outbreaks one in the Province of Norte de Santander and another in the Province of Cundinamarca and more animals were sacrificed.

Then after a series of actions on December of 2017, the OIE recertified Colombia with exception of a so-called contention zone in support of favoring international commerce of Colombian meat with:

  • Russia
  • Curacao
  • Chile
  • Angola
  • Kazakhstan
  • Byelorussia
  • Armenia
  • Kirgizstan
  • Venezuela
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Egypt
  • Cuba
  • Georgia
  • Hong Kong &
  • Vietnam

They also carried out actions to open new markets with China ad Panamá. However, in March of 2018, another fact raised red flags when the authorities seized 15 infected cows coming from Venezuela, although this fact did not imply the suspension of the vaccination free certification status.

In August of this year, Colombia requested restitution of the “free” status for the contention zone, but the OIE requested more epidemiological information linked to the disease; therefore ICA decided to maintain the contention zone until October 31st.

Unfortunately, as of October 1 of 2018 there was another outbreak in the municipality of Sogamoso, and although this city is within the contention area on October 3 the OIE suspended the recertification once again.


Consejo Editorial