Incursions of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in the south of Japan and South Korea have resulted in the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calling for increased surveillance against the disease.

FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth warned: “We are worried because the rigorous biosecurity measures in place in the two countries were overwhelmed, pointing to a recent, large-scale weight of infection in source areas, very possibly the Far East.”

In early April, Japan confirmed an outbreak of type O FMD virus, currently more common in those Asian countries where FMD is endemic. The Republic of Korea was hit by the rarer type A virus in January, and by O in April. The routes taken by the virus have not been identified, but the possibility exists that infection occurred through food waste.

Latest World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) figures indicate that, to date, Japan has had to slaughter over 2,500 animals, primarily cattle.

Lubroth continued that, over the past nine years, incursions into officially FMD-free countries, as were Japan and the Republic of Korea, had been extremely rare, He added that to have had this number of events in four months was a serious cause for concern.

He added: “Under the circumstances, we consider that all countries are at risk, and a review of preventive measures and response capacity would be welcome.”

The outbreaks have raised concerns that there could be a replay of the 2001 FMD transcontinental epidemic that spread to South Africa, the UK, and other European countries, following incursions into Japan and South Korea. In the UK alone, the incursion is thought to have resulted in losses across industries of at least GBP8 billion (US$12 billion).