News

Forum takes national approach to FMD threat

Beef Central, 27/08/2012

Government officials, livestock leaders, scientists and peak industry stakeholders have agreed that Foot and Mouth Disease poses one of the single greatest threats to Australia’s livestock industries, and that an ongoing collaborative approach between government and industry is essential to ensure Australia is adequately armed against the disease.

Representatives from each sector met at the National FMD Stakeholder Forum in Sydney last Thursday to review Australia’s preparedness and response capacity for FMD.

Australia’s chief veterinary officer Dr Mark Schipp said the FMD forum, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, marked the first time there has been a truly national approach to addressing the threat of FMD.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) estimates that direct economic losses over a 10 year period following an outbreak of FMD could range from $7.1 billion for a small three month outbreak to $16 billion for a large 12 month outbreak.

An outbreak of FMD in the United Kingdom 10 years ago cost their economy the equivalent of A$19 billion, and South Korea experienced multi-billion dollar losses from an outbreak last year.

Stated plans by Indonesia to open its gates to meat imports from FMD free zones within FMD affected countries such as Brazil and India, and reports of illegal imports of buffalo meat into the country from India during the recent Ramadan, have heightened industry fears in Australia about the potential for the disease to re-establish on Australia’s doorstep.

Dr Schipp said constant vigilance and awareness about the risks, and determination to protect the livestock industry was the only way to ensure Australia did not suffer dire economic consequences.

Dr Schipp said a number of FMD preparedness issues require comprehensive national coordination as they relate to on-shore (post-border) activity where the responsibilities of the Australian Government, states and territories, and industry require a team approach to be effective.

“That’s why many sessions of the forum were devoted to issues of shared responsibility, and how the Australian Government, industries, states and territories and other stakeholders can collaborate to ensure optimal national FMD preparedness,” Dr Schipp said.

Stakeholders progressed issues relating to the potential use vaccination, strengthening emergency response capacities, and the use of scanning and strategic intelligence to provide early warning.

The forum was also attended by a representative from Coles Supermarkets, who reiterated the need to consider potential consumer behaviour, and develop education strategies that ensure consumers understood that there was no public health risk posed by the consumption of meat from infected or vaccinated animals in the unlikely event of an FMD outbreak.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand states that FMD does not present any threat to consumer health or food safety, and there is no reason for people to alter their consumption if there was an outbreak of FMD in Australia.

“The last thing the country needs in an FMD outbreak is for people to stop eating meat and other animal products because of misperceptions about their safety,’ said Dr Schipp.

“Consumers should be reassured that an FMD outbreak does not pose any risks to food safety,” said Dr Schipp.

Attendees also agreed on the value of developing industry business continuity plans for FMD, and the importance of having contemporary traceability arrangements across all sectors that meet the national need to quickly and accurately trace livestock movements in an emergency situation.

Duncan Rowland, the Executive Manager of Biosecurity Services at Animal Health Australia, presented to the forum on the importance of livestock traceability. “Inadequate traceability arrangements in one sector greatly increase the risk to other sectors, given that the effectiveness of control measures will rely upon how quickly susceptible animals can be traced,” said Mr Rowland.

Participants also indicated their support for the conduct of a national livestock standstill simulation exercise, to test current arrangements and ensure they will be effective at that critical time when an FMD outbreak is first discovered.

“The agreement by all stakeholders, especially around swiftly implementing a vaccination campaign if needed, will ensure Australia is better prepared for the threat of FMD,” said Dr Schipp.

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