Foot and Mouth Disease Forum reaches agreement on measures to protect Australia

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 28th August 2012

Government officials, livestock leaders, scientists and peak industry stakeholders met in Sydney this week to review Australia’s preparedness and response capacity for any foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

Participants at the National FMD Stakeholder Forum agreed that FMD poses one of the single greatest threats to Australia’s livestock industries, and that collaborative government and industry action and investment must be ongoing to ensure Australia is adequately armed against this disease.

Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp said the collaborative work being undertaken to achieve long-term enhancement of Australia’s preparedness and capacity to respond to an FMD outbreak was a positive move towards protecting the Australian economy from an outbreak of FMD.

“The FMD Forum, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), marks the first time we have seen a truly national approach to addressing the threat of FMD. Constant vigilance and awareness about the risks, and determination to protect the livestock industry is the only way to ensure we do not suffer dire economic consequences.

“Last year, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) estimated that an outbreak of FMD could cost the Australian economy billions of dollars.

“Over a ten year period following an outbreak there would be severe direct economic losses to the livestock and meat processing sector. These losses ranged from $7.1 billion for a small three month outbreak, to $16.0 billion for a large 12 month outbreak (expressed in current dollar terms).

“It was only a decade ago that an outbreak of FMD in the United Kingdom cost their economy the equivalent of AUD$19 billion, and it was only last year that South Korea experienced multi-billion dollar losses from this disease.”

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.