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FMD mock-up will test responses to outbreak.

Byline: Karen Dent

BRITAIN'S ability to deal with another major outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease is to be tested in two-day simulation later this year.

The exercise, called Silver Birch, will check whether the current plans and policies are adequate to cope if there is a recurrence of the disease.

Organised by Defra executive agency Animal Health, Silver Birch will run across England, Scotland and Wales on November 9 and 10.

The real-time mock-up will check whether the correct procedures are in place to control and eradicate exotic notifiable diseases.

The findings will be used to make improvements where they are needed.

Animal Health's head of contingency planning Gordon Hickman, said: "This exercise will test the plans and responses of all the main operational partners that would be involved in preventing and controlling a major outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

"Exercises such as this allow us to identify enhanced ways of working, and help to ensure our approach to managing a significant disease outbreak is joined up and co-ordinated. "Everybody involved with livestock farming in the UK is already working hard to prevent a reoccurrence of the kind of foot-and-mouth outbreak that affected the industry in 2001 and 2007.

"However, it is essential that we plan for a realistic worst case scenario, and make sure that we are in the best possible position to minimise the impact on farmers and their livestock should the worst occur."

Operation Silver Birch will set up a National Disease Control Centre (NDCC) and multiple Local Disease Control Centres (LDCCs) around the country, just as they would be if a major foot-and-mouth outbreak occurred in reality. A Disease Strategy Group (DSG) will be set up in Edinburgh and an Emergency Co-ordination Centre (Wales) (ECC(W)) will be put together in Cardiff.

Animal Health held the first of two "tabletop" exercises last week to prepare for Silver Birch by looking at the roles of key staff and whether the correct communication and structural arrangements are in place.

The second preparation exercise will take place in October.

Animal Health has put together a list of objectives so it can judge how successful the exercise has been. It plans to publish its evaluation early next year. Under European Union rules, member states have to evaluate their foot and mouth disease contingency plans either twice within a five-year period or once during the five years after the outbreak of a major disease has been effectively controlled and eradicated.

British pig meat is being exported to the Philippines for the first time since the 2007 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

The market was closed because of the disease and was never formally reopened.

However, a team from Defra and the British Pig Executive (Bpex) has managed to fast-track a change in policy. Bpex international manager Peter Hardwick said: "The Philippines is a very important market for the fifth quarter and offals."

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CATASTROPHY A cattle pyre during the height of the foot-and-mouth crisis
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 17, 2010
Words:490
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