Farms key in managing disease outbreak

24 Mar, 2019 04:00 AM
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It is vital we continually work to increase our preparedness for an outbreak.

Biosecurity on farm is one of those things where the government and industry get together and develop policies and plans and farmers are expected to implement them. It's all too hard, right?

Except, the risk of an exotic disease outbreak to Australia is calculated in the billions of dollars; without calculating the mass culling of genetic lines that would have to occur in some situations, disruption to business and normal social life - the list goes on.

So, where is the farmer's role in this and what does the farmer need to be aware of and is expected to comply with? The commonly discussed scenario is foot-and-mouth disease, but there are more exotic disease risks to the dairy industry.

Biosecurity includes taking into account the disease risk posed by imported food and visitors - insects and people - travelling to Australia.

Australia's agricultural industry is dependent on early detection and control of exotic diseases. Without early detection, the disease can spread unrestricted, making containment and eradication a larger job when it is detected.

Animal Health Australia (AHA) is one of a number of government and industry groups tasked with the role of overseeing and managing education and awareness programs to raise awareness of exotic diseases.

A lot of resources have been invested in the AADIS - the model to follow if an exotic disease outbreak occurs that has district, state/territory or Australia-wide impacts. The first aim of the Australian Animal Disease Spread (AADIS) model is to contain the disease risk before it becomes a national emergency.

However, modelling of the risk of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) - as one example - indicated on any given day in Australia, an estimated 100,000 head of cattle, 40,000 pigs and 30,000 sheep were transported on the roads. It was estimated it would take 72 hours to totally halt movements of susceptible livestock species if an endemic disease outbreak occurred.

In the United Kingdom, at least 57 farms in 16 counties were infected by the time the first FMD case was confirmed in 2001.

Bluetongue virus, Theileria, Johne's and Anthrax are other notifiable diseases of concern. Then there are the exotic diseases where modelling indicates it only takes wind to spread them from Papua New Guinea or Indonesia, relying on mosquito and midge vectors to fly diseases into Australia.

A big part of the risk is that the early detection indicators of so many exotic diseases look similar. There is also the perception that blood tests and autopsies cost a lot of money.

In actual fact, the diagnosis of an exotic disease is often partially or fully funded by the government. That is a measure of how keen the authorities are to control the situation as early as possible.

AHA manages development and review of the Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan (Ausvetplan) for every livestock exotic disease risk - each plan contains the nationally agreed approach for response to an emergency outbreak in Australia.

Dairy Australia and Meat and Livestock Australia also have a range of information resources that relate to those emergency plans - including farm biosecurity plans, cattle health statements, specific disease documents, the Livestock Production Assurance program and the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS).

Dairy Australia's tools for dairy farmers focus on recording livestock movements, herd health, farm inputs, controlling visitor access, containing effluent and waste, protecting the farm and herd from neighbours and segregating sick and dead animals.

The people factor

Beyond anything, the perceived highest risk factor for the spread of endemic exotic disease in Australia, is likely to be people. They could be visitors from overseas or Australians who have returned home after trekking or hunting through areas that contain endemic diseases such as FMD.

"We have been fortunate to date, but increased international trade, movements of people and products all around the world and the uncertain impacts of climate change increasingly threaten our good biosecurity. It is vital we continually work to increase our preparedness for an outbreak," AHA's biosecurity and extension manager, Northern Australia, Jess Rummery said.

Victorian Farmers Federation livestock committee member Steve Harrison participated in government and industry-funded FMD training in India. His message is more blunt. "Before I went to Nepal, I always had the impression that animals died from FMD," he said.

"But they don't - you get production losses. It's the practice around dealing with it that results in the high livestock death toll."

Mr Harrison said he believed the popularity of international travel and the high level of endemic FMD in Asia caused increased disease risk in Australia. "If it comes into Melbourne's domestic airport, the first people affected will be farmers on the peri-urban border," he said. "It'll be brought in by someone on a working holiday or visiting relatives. We need to ensure money is spent on the biosecurity front line at our airports.

"As farmers, we need to share knowledge between ourselves and with our overseas neighbours. The Nepalese villagers we met cared about their animals and were asking us to help them improve their livestock practices."

Australia's Biosecurity Act 2015 requires everyone to take reasonable and practical steps to prevent, eliminate or minimise the impact of biosecurity risks.

Farmers should ensure they have the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline number (1800 675 888) somewhere accessible. This number is a 24-hour line where they can report unusual signs of disease in their livestock.D

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