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Animal diseases, animal health

The health and welfare of animals concerns not just animal livestock owners or government, but all of us.

Disease outbreaks and the measures to control them can carry wide and costly consequences for public health, the economy and the environment. The way we treat animals is an important reflection of the values of our society. This means we all have a stake in improving the national level of animal health and welfare.

Vigilance and good stockmanship are vital in the fight against animal disease. Monitoring animals for signs of disease, and following good farming practices are essential ways of reducing the risk of disease and preventing the spread of disease during an outbreak.

Key facts and figures

  • There have been over 14 exotic disease outbreaks in the last 10 years including foot and mouth disease, bird flu and bluetongue.
  • The costs of disease outbreaks range from £2 million (minor) to over £3 billion (major outbreak).

Latest news

Current situation and background

Animal keepers are responsible for the health of animals in their care, ensuring their welfare, health and productivity and for dealing with animal diseases or other animal related threats.

There are practical biosecurity steps which keepers can follow to prevent the spread of disease.

Some diseases of animals are so important they must by law be notified to government if they are suspected or diagnosed.

Endemic diseases are those which are already present in the UK such as Bovine TB.

Exotic diseases are not normally present in the UK and can be introduced for example via illegal imports or by wild birds. Defra’s aim is to prevent or limit outbreaks of exotic disease through controls on imports and careful surveillance including monitoring disease trends worldwide. When disease does strike it is Defra’s role to mitigate and eliminate the disease though emergency response and disease controls as set out in contingency plans.

Defra also maintains control on exports to minimise the risk of exporting disease, which could damage our reputation and trading links.

Defra’s maintains veterinary surveillance of animals in order to detect and assess significant changes in animal health that could indicate an exotic disease incursion or a new disease, early enough to intervene effectively. It is anticipated a major unknown infectious disease will arise around every 8 years at an average annual cost of £64 million.

Specific policies are in place to prevent and control serious fish, crustacean and shellfish disease both in aquaculture and wild stocks, including contingency plans. It is estimated there is one outbreak every ten years of a major fish disease at a cost of £12 million to £20 million.

Zoonotic diseases can pass between animals and humans (e.g. salmonella). Defra is required under EU law to operate disease control programmes for some diseases (e.g. Salmonella in poultry), and monitor trends for others, in order to minimise the risk to public health. Failure to comply with EU requirements can result in heavy fines. Defra also works to tackle the increasing resistance of animals to antibiotics through the antimicrobial resistance policy.

Underpinning the government’s work to protect animal and public health and welfare is an extensive programme of veterinary research and development to provide an evidence base for our policies.

Key publications

Page last modified: 4 February 2011