The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has announced the pending eradication of a fatal cattle virus known as rinderpest, hailing the achievement as “the first time in history that humankind has succeeded in wiping out an animal disease in the wild, and only the second time, after smallpox in 1980, that a disease has been eliminated thanks to human efforts.” According to FAO, the global disease “does not affect humans directly, but its ability to cause swift, massive losses of cattle and other hoofed animals has led to devastating effects on agriculture for millennia, leaving famine and economic devastation in its wake.”

Reporting that the last known rinderpest outbreak occurred in 2001 in Kenya, FAO attributed its success to the Global Rinderpest Eradication Program (GREP) launched in 1994. GREP led partnerships with international and domestic agencies that aimed to characterize the disease, promote vaccination and coordinate eradication campaigns. With the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), FAO plans to declare the virus officially eradicated by mid-2011. After that time, FAO will implement a strategy to monitor the rinderpest situation with activities that include historical accounts, contingency plans and biological materials surveys.

“We are confident that the World Assembly of Delegates of the OIE will officially recognize all remaining countries as free from the disease in May 2011 and thus close on that day OIE Pathway activities for rinderpest eradication,” stated OIE Director General Bernard Vallat in an October 14, 2010, FAO press release. “The OIE program was launched back in 1989 and has been extremely reliable in assessing the presence or absence of the virus in all countries worldwide. It should serve future ventures in eradicating other animal diseases.”