International collaboration key for Australia’s FMD preparedness

February 18th, 2019

Did you know that scientists aren’t permitted to work with live foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus in Australia?

FMD thankfully doesn’t occur in Australia (and our quarantine system is designed to keep it out!) so there are strict guidelines around allowing disease agents into Australian research institutions. This means that working with other countries on FMD research is crucial to ensuring Australia is prepared for this emergency animal disease.

Industry levies have helped support research collaborations that prepare our scientists, our laboratories and our country to respond to emergency animal diseases.

As Dr Wilna Vosloo, Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory explains, the FMD Risk Management Project (2010-2016) set up valuable partnerships with various laboratories around the world.

“We know that an FMD outbreak would have a profound impact on Australia’s economy, so we need to be prepared to perform diagnostics and research should it come to our shores. Working with overseas laboratories using live FMD virus allows us to learn from them and ensure that the diagnostic tests we use in Australia would be able to diagnose FMD if there was an outbreak.”

Specific collaboration with laboratories in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands has provided additional value.

“Australia shares a common goal with these countries: all three hold FMD vaccine banks and we want to ensure that our banks have suitable strains to protect against new, emerging strains of the FMD virus.  Pooling resources and working together allows us to perform more tests and provide better information on the suitability of our individual vaccine banks,” said Dr Vosloo.

These collaborative efforts have helped increase Australia’s involvement in the Global FMD Research Alliance. Australia is now internationally recognized for its work in South-East Asia to help understand and control FMD, as well as for its research into vaccine efficiency. FMD viruses circulating in South-East Asia are considered a key risk to Australia.

Livestock industry funds have thus contributed to:

  1. Knowing what FMD viruses are circulating in our region (but outside Australia)
  2. Making sure we have the right type of FMD vaccine in Australia’s vaccine bank should we need to use it
  3. Ensuring we are able to make a fast and accurate diagnosis of FMD should we have an outbreak.

The FMD Risk Management Project has since become a part of the FMD Ready Project, which commenced in 2016 and aims to improve surveillance, preparedness and return to trade from emergency animal disease incursions, using FMD as a model.

It is supported by Meat & Livestock Australia, through funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural Research & Development for Profit program, and by producer levies from Australian FMD-susceptible livestock (cattle, sheep, goats and pigs) industries and Charles Sturt University (CSU), leveraging significant in-kind support from the research partners.

The research partners for this project are the CSIRO, CSU through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, supported by Animal Health Australia.