Foot and mouth report recommends major changes to the lamb supply chain
Future foot and mouth disease epidemics in the UK could spread as quickly and easily as the 2001 outbreak unless changes are made to the fat lamb supply-chain, according to new research published , almost two years after the first case was confirmed.
The report, published by the University of Newcastle's Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) and The Institute of Logistics and Transport, says that the foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in 2001 exposed the 'poor logistics mechanisms and practices' throughout the supply-chain. It says the chain is characterised by a large number of animal movements, many of which go unrecorded.
A 'fat lamb' is a young sheep that is being fattened for slaughter, after which it will be sold as meat for human consumption. The supply-chain includes a large number of different people and organisations – including farmers, auctioneers, livestock dealers and abattoirs and food retailers – who carry out a variety of different transactions.
Sheep are taken through the different stages in the chain, some passing through several markets and farms across the country before reaching the abattoir. According to researchers, many of the animals' movements are not documented.
Today's report says that, in addition to the high number of unrecorded animal movements, it is also not clear who is responsible for the various stages in the channel and what the actual role of every chain member is.
These flaws could have lead to FMD spreading so quickly and may have also contributed to consumer concerns about product quality, safety, and the 'traceability' of the source of the meat.
The report makes several recommendations to policy makers. These may help prevent the spread of future FMD epidemics, while being cost effective and helping to improve consumer safety and animal welfare.
The report says:
Livestock traceability mechanisms should be introduced for the UK sheep flock, such as animal passports and tagging.
Sheep movements must be reduced and minimised, perhaps by locating abattoirs and auctions closer to each other and the source of production.
Information exchange, dissemination and co-ordination in the liveweight and deadweight fat lamb chain needs to be improved.
A thorough and strategic reassessment of the UK fat lamb chain should take place
For the report, lead researcher Michael Bourlakis, from Newcastle University's Centre for Rural Economy, interviewed 23 members of the fat lamb supply-chain in the North East of England, which is where the FMD outbreak started in February 2001.
Dr Bourlakis said: "Foot and mouth disease in the UK in 2001 exposed the complex nature of the structure and relationships in the fat lamb chain and has drawn attention to the poor logistics mechanisms and practices that prevail.
"If these recommendations are implemented, it could result in a shorter, more transparent and customer focused chain, aided by a two-way information flow between the fat lamb chain members."
The report also found that specialist hauliers provide the best form of animal transportation, especially as recent legislation demands that every vehicle must be disinfected before collecting animals from each farm.
Alan Waller, chairman of the Institute of Logistics and Transport, said, "Traceability, information exchange and cost efficiency are key tenets of modern supply-chain management. The outcome of this report demonstrates the need for policy makers to incorporate supply-chain thinking into future legislation and guidelines relating to animal movements if future epidemics are to be avoided or contained. However, we recognise that a reduction in sheep movements are likely to have implications for total supply-chain costs".
Notes to editors:
1. A copy of the report is available from: Brenda Jackson, ILT, 44 1536 740156; Email firstname.lastname@example.org
2. For further information and interviews contact Michael Bourlakis, who will be available for comment/interview between 0900 to 1700 hours GMT on Monday 27th January 2003. Michael Bourlakis, CRE, 44-191-222-8854 or 6900. Email M.A.Bourlakis@ncl.ac.uk.