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Foot and Mouth Disease a Priority

Clearly the main priority for myself and WoolProducers over the past month, has been Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) preparedness since the confirmation of the disease in Bali on 5 July. Whilst Australia had been on heightened alert after detection of FMD in Indonesia in May, the announcement of it being found in Bali has made the threat to Australia’s livestock industries increasingly uncomfortable.


Whilst the threat of an FMD incursion has certainly increased, it must be remembered that we do not have FMD and we are still in the preparedness phase, as we have been for many, many years. It is also worth noting that while the risk has increased following this detection in Indonesia, the chance of an FMD outbreak in Australia, according to the government is now an 11.6% chance in the next five-years – it is no means a certainty that we will have an FMD incursion.


While the past few months has seen a flurry of activity in this space, it must be understood that Australia is well prepared and that Emergency Animal Disease (EAD) response and preparedness activities are something that WoolProducers and other industry bodies, have been working on for many years. While you can never be too prepared, we are well placed to respond to an EAD, including FMD.


However, while preparedness is very important at this point in time, the number one focus at the moment is keeping these diseases out of Australia.


In order to achieve this, the federal government has instituted a range of pre-and-at-boarder measures to assist in mitigating risks and is working closely with industry on these arrangements. The heightened biosecurity measures, while not as drastic as some would like, aims to combat the risks associated with the FMD detection in recent times in Bali. WoolProducers has also written to the federal Ag Minister, Murray Watt requesting that further measures and resources are dedicated to this issue, as appropriate as the situation evolves.


It is also important to understand that we do not operate in a zero-risk environment. FMD has been present for a very long time in over 70 countries around the world, including countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and we have for 130 years managed to keep FMD out of Australia. These increased border measures are commensurate with the increased risk that we are currently facing.


In terms of Australia’s preparedness for an EAD, including FMD, there are also a range of in-country measures in place, starting with the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA). The EADRA is a legally binding, contractual agreement between the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and industry to increase Australia’s preparedness and response capacity for an EAD.


The EADRA has been in place for 20 years and WoolProducers are the signatory on behalf of the Australian wool industry. The EADRA is a unique document in that it ensures that not only government, who will lead a response has a say, but more importantly industry, will form part of the response. This is done through the various levels of management committees that will be convened in a response.


As a signatory, WoolProducers have obligations that we must undertake on behalf of woolgrowers and the broader industry, both in the preparedness and response phases. These include things like ensuring that there are trained industry personnel to be called upon, the development of an industry response plan and risk mitigation activities including the implementation of industry biosecurity programs and activities.


Further underpinning the EADRA is the AUSVETPLAN, which is a nationally agreed approach for responses to an EAD. AUSVETPLAN documents are a comprehensive series of manuals that cover disease-specific response strategies and response policy briefs; operational, enterprise and management manuals; and any relevant guidance and resource documents.


Industry also has input into the development and maintenance of these AUSVETPLANS. Whilst these documents are generally technical in nature, it is important that industry’s views are considered so that these guides are as practical as possible for a response scenario. For example, I spent two days this month representing the wool industry, along with other susceptible industries, state Chief Veterinary Officers and Commonwealth representatives, in a workshop facilitated by Animal Health Australia (AHA) to update the current FMD AUSVETPLAN manual.


Finally, producers have a role to play in terms of preparedness. Biosecurity is something that all producers undertake, however, to varying levels. Regardless of what measures you currently undertake you can always be doing more, whether this is to implement or update your farm biosecurity plan, reassess what is an acceptable risk in terms of animal movements, institute a biosecurity induction for visitors to your farm or undertake the Animal Health Australia’s EAD Foundation Course.


If you’re not sure where to start, AHA and Plant Health Australia has a great resource in their Farm Biosecurity website. While you’re there, be sure to sign up to their Animal Disease Alerts, which provides up-to-date and factual information on current issues.


Remember, that your boundary fence and what you do inside that fence, is your last line of defence in protecting your livelihood. By undertaking good biosecurity practices, you are ensuring that you are doing your part in protecting your animals and your livelihood.


WoolProducers will continue to advocate on behalf of, and in the interests of woolgrowers in these deliberations and ensure that we as an industry are as prepared as possible for an EAD.