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Global science network to protect against animal diseases

9 May 2011

The UK will be better protected against animal diseases like avian flu and foot and mouth thanks to a global network of scientific research to be launched by Defra this week.

Increasingly globalised movements of animals, people and food have raised the risk of animal diseases spreading to the UK, which could have serious economic, environmental and health consequences.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will lead one of five work packages in the Defra-led, EU-funded network, which will link thousands of scientists across the world. It will allow them to exchange research, establish common goals and collaborate on developing future controls. It will also underpin early warning systems by identifying what emerging diseases are being picked up abroad.

Ahead of the network's launch on Wednesday, Agriculture and Food Minister Jim Paice said: "In this modern age of globalised trade and travel the risk of animal disease entering the UK is greater than ever.

"We already have comprehensive international surveillance and outbreak plans, but we must prepare for the challenges in 5, 10 and 15 years' time.

"Countries acting on their own just don't have the resources to research every disease, all of the time, so sharing resources like this will get us maximum protection and value for money."

The €1million EU-funded network will include Canada, USA, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Denmark and the UK. It will be divided into three regions - the Americas, Asia and Australasia, and Europe - and surrounding countries are expected to feed in. It is hoped an Africa region will follow.

Examples of major diseases of concern are: Avian Influenza; new strains of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSV) which are circulating in China; and African Swine Fever, which has spread from Africa to Russia.

The network will also help to develop control measures for current problems such as TB- or drug resistant parasites.

It is estimated that 75 per cent of emerging animal diseases can be transmitted to humans, often from wildlife via livestock. The network will allow information to be shared more quickly on conditions that affect humans such as nipah virus infection. An outbreak of this disease in people in Malaysia has been traced back to pigs catching the virus from the droppings of bats in palm trees.

The global network will also help improve the health and productivity of animals through hastening the development of improved control methods for existing diseases in the UK. This is crucial to meet the challenges of increasing food production and reducing the impact of livestock on the climate.

UK Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens said: "Global coordination of our animal disease research efforts will help ensure that new technologies, such as diagnostic tools, vaccines and new treatments, are identified and put to work as quickly as possible to make a real difference to the health, welfare and productivity of livestock."

ENDS

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Defra - press enquiries
tel: 020 7238 6092

Defra - public enquiries
tel: 08450 518486