Vets ready to deal with foot-and-mouth

New Zealand veterinarians and officials are better prepared for an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, following a visit to Nepal to see the problem first-hand.

If the disease was to enter the country, it would be catastrophic for the economy, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

It estimates export losses of $14.4 billion, spending of $1.17b on eradication, and livestock compensation for infected properties of $30.8 million.

MPI response senior adviser Katie Hickey, who has just returned from Nepal, said the 10-strong team gained valu- able experience by working with the disease, which is ende-mic in the Himalayan nation.

"One of the main drivers for going to Nepal was to educate New Zealanders about detecting foot-and-mouth. Because of its geographical isolation, New Zealand has never had the disease."

The most likely way for it to arrive in the country would be imports of infected meat, she said.

Hickey said that if foot-and-mouth arrived, the longer it went unnoticed, the greater the risk of a large outbreak.

Another 10 Kiwi vets and officials will travel to Nepal next year.

Hickey said members of the first group would raise awareness of the disease with groups in their local communities.

"The participants are passing on their knowledge when they get home. Already, some have been addressing farmers and vets."

The trip was also important in raising awareness about MPI's preparedness programme, she said.

"The experience enabled us to build strong relationships between the ministry and animal industries and private veterinarians. We all know that we have an important role to play with foot-and-mouth disease, and it's vital that the government and private sector align."

Hickey said there was a vaccine against foot-and-mouth, which worked in a similar way to the flu vaccine.

Foot-and-mouth affects cloven-hoofed animals, mainly ruminants and pigs, but over 70 animal species are known to be susceptible. The main species of concern are cattle, water buffalo, pigs, sheep and goats.

The disease hit Britain in 2001, with 2000 cases across a wide area of countryside. More than 10 million sheep and cattle were slaughtered in an attempt to stop the disease spreading, and large areas were closed to the public, damaging tourism. The crisis is estimated to have cost the British economy $15.8b.

The visit to Nepal was organised by the Australian Department of Agriculture, which has an agreement with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation to provide regular real-time foot-and-mouth training.

The Dominion Post