Are Farm Animal Attractions and Petting Zoos too dangerous for young children?

Following a serious outbreak of E.coli 0157 in the UK, during the latter part of 2009 which saw a number of children hospitalised and several farm attractions closed, Professor Hugh Pennington, Emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that parents should "think hard" before letting children, particularly those under the age of 5, touch animals at petting farms.

By Stefan Puttnam, Managing Director, Jardine Lloyd Thompson Leisure.

He added that in his view, for children under 5 the risk is not worth taking. I do not believe that any operator of a farm attraction wants to consider the economical effects of banning younger children, but as a result of the outbreak many such operators – particularly across the south of England – did see a drop in visitor numbers, some claiming by as much as 50%.

It is worth considering whether this was an exaggerated response to what was ultimately a fairly isolated situation, or an indication that more should be done by operators to improve health and safety at their premises.

Following the outbreak in the UK, the reaction was to close the affected sites as well as several others within the vicinity as a precautionary measure. Should another outbreak occur this summer, more sites will close and more operators will suffer.

Considering the economic consequences of either a second outbreak or an enforced ban on younger children, the industry should take the opportunity to examine whether both can be prevented through greater health and safety regulation. As this type of event is not restricted to the UK, looking at how other countries would deal with the situation may be useful.

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