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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK


Food prize for cattle saviour

The UN aims to eradicate the disease totally by 2010

The World Food Prize - often described as the Nobel prize for food research - has been awarded to a scientist whose work has helped save farmers worldwide from starvation and economic ruin.

British veterinary researcher Dr Walter Plowright developed a vaccine against rinderpest, the most lethal of cattle diseases.

An outbreak of this viral disease can wipe out whole herds. An epidemic in the 1890s killed 80-90% of all cattle in sub-Saharan Africa. More recently, another rinderpest outbreak that raged across much of Africa in 1982-84 is estimated to have cost at least $500 million.

Rinderpest is highly infectious and is spread by direct contact and by drinking water that has been infected by the dung of sick animals.

Infected cattle develop a high fever; red patches with discharge from around the eyes, nose and mouth; frothy saliva from the mouth; constipation followed by diarrhoea. It takes just a few days for a sick animal to die.

Animal and human welfare

Thanks to Dr Plowright work, this disease is now largely under control and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is aiming to eradicate it entirely by the year 2010.

Dr Plowright began his work on rinderpest in Kenya in the 1950s and his achievement was to produce a vaccine that was cheap, effective and could survive in the tropical conditions where rinderpest was rife.

The vaccine has been so successful that rinderpest is now confined to isolated pockets in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Pakistan and the Middle East. But the FAO is confident that, with the help of the Plowright vaccine, it will be the first animal disease to be wiped off the face of our planet.

The World Food Prize was first awarded in 1987 and seeks to recognise people who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

Past winners of the $250 000 prize have included agriculturists and financiers but this is the first time someone working in veterinary science has been honoured, recognising the importance of animal health to human welfare.

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