Response all set for any foot and mouth outbreak

READY TO ACT: A cow and her calf drooling from foot and mouth disease in Argentina. Unconfirmed economic modelling puts the cost of an outbreak  in New Zealand at between $16 billion and $26b but the Ministry for Primary Industries is well-prepared to respond.
READY TO ACT: A cow and her calf drooling from foot and mouth disease in Argentina. Unconfirmed economic modelling puts the cost of an outbreak in New Zealand at between $16 billion and $26b but the Ministry for Primary Industries is well-prepared to respond.

The Government is well-placed to initiate an effective response if foot and mouth disease was ever found in New Zealand, a senior Ministry for Primary Industries official says.

The preparedness programme had been strengthened over the past few years. A national biosecurity network had been developed and an operational agreement between MPI and about 30 industry bodies had been formulated, Andrew Coleman told farmers at a recent Waikato Federated Farmers meeting in Hamilton.

Coleman is MPI's deputy director-general for compliance and response, and acting deputy director-general for verification and systems. He is also a Crown-appointed director for OSPRI (Operational Solutions for Primary Industries) New Zealand.

The biosecurity network of 50,000 allowed MPI to know the location of all the groups with the resources required for an incursion of foot and mouth disease anywhere in the country.

That included the location of diggers and bulldozers, information on culling livestock and their disposal, the names of regional veterinarians and where tarpaulins could be sourced to cover dead stock.

"We have put a lot of preparedness in place by saying if it came down to day one, hour one, we know what we have to do," Coleman said.

The Government's response in the event of an outbreak was outlined in the Whole of Government Biosecurity Response Guide, which was signed off in 2011.

A gauge that MPI had improved its procedures was its response to the recent discovery of a single male Queensland fruit fly in Northland.

By 3pm on the day of the fly's discovery, MPI had completed every responding task. When a fruit fly was discovered in Auckland in 2012, it took MPI three-and-a-half days to achieve that, Coleman said.

MPI was able to initiate a much swifter response and maintained significant community goodwill because the community saw it stand and deliver early.

MPI also kept groups such as growers and farmers involved. These groups door-knocked to raise awareness of the consequences to their industry if a fruit fly population became established.

The fruit fly that caused that alert had arrived in the country as an egg or larva and would have pupated close to where it was trapped, he said.

Coleman was pleased with the co- operation from the public, who understood the significance of the threat.

"New Zealanders understand that biosecurity is bloody important."

He said there were lessons New Zealand could learn from the foot and mouth outbreak in the United Kingdom.

The government there had lost disease traceability quickly because they did not have a good system such as New Zealand's National Animal Identification and Tracing (Nait) system. They also started their disease containment in a small area and gradually moved out as the disease spread.

MPI's best control measure was to do the opposite - start big and reduce the containment area once certain that it was under control, Coleman said.

"What that allows is that the part you have certainty around, can enter markets."

Coleman said that if a foot and mouth outbreak occurred, he would want to avoid a repeat of scenes in the UK, shown around the world, of mass graves of slaughtered infected animals.

"Those animals should have been covered," he said. The images were hugely damaging, affecting the country's ability to return to the export market.

MPI would monitor and vaccinate animals in the cordon around the containment area. Animals in the containment area would not be vaccinated because they might be culled.

The initial containment area could potentially be the whole country, given the importance of agriculture in New Zealand.

"Agriculture here is 70-odd per cent of GDP and the dilemma here is potentiality much greater here than anywhere else in the world," Coleman said.

It was better to fall on the side of caution - and New Zealand had a natural barrier with the Cook Strait.

Although New Zealand had Nait, Coleman said he would never claim that this electronic identification system provided absolute certainty, because New Zealand did not have full traceability of cloven-hoofed animals and it was not compulsory to electronically tag sheep, goats or alpacas and llamas.

"Traceability is the single-biggest answer that we have for certainty."

Deer and cattle were required to be Nait-tagged, but there was a degree of non-compliance from non-commercial people.

He believed the best solution for Nait was for every cloven-hoofed animal to be tagged to allow traceability.

"We'll know the lifecycle of that animal. That's the best biosecurity control because you have certainty much quicker."

MPI did not store foot and mouth vaccines - the disease was not wanted, even in a safe biocontainment facility, Coleman said.

In the event of an outbreak, MPI would identify which of the seven types of foot and mouth disease was involved and would then access the appropriate vaccine from 1.5 million doses of vaccine it has overseas, he said.

Unconfirmed economic modelling put the cost of an outbreak at $16b-$26b, depending on its scale.

"That's the significance of a biosecurity concern related to foot and mouth."

Waikato Times