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Research project building capacity in disease surveillance

Posted by: dbarnard

January 21, 2020

Australia is fortunate to be free of many diseases which cause significant problems for livestock production in other parts of the world. Our reputation as a clean and green source of meat and fibre products has enabled our livestock industries to access markets domestically and internationally.

Preparing for and preventing an incursion of an emergency animal disease (EAD) is vital in maintaining this reputation, which is why projects like the FMD Ready project are so important. Using foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) as a model, this project brings together researchers, livestock industries and state and territory governments to explore ways Australia can prevent and manage an EAD outbreak. The logic is that if Australia can be prepared for FMD, it can be prepared for any animal disease.

Erica Ayers, a WA sheep and cattle farmer and veterinarian, is one of several producers working with the FMD Ready project to build greater on-farm surveillance capacity amongst farmers. On-farm surveillance is an important component of EAD preparedness, as it ensures suspected diseases are reported quickly, allowing the launch of a fast and effective response if needed.

Erica worked as a veterinarian in the UK’s 2001 FMD outbreak. Due to this, she has a firm grasp of the very real risk FMD poses to Australia.

“I have experienced firsthand the devastating consequences of an [FMD] outbreak in the UK,” she explained.

“Being the vet on the ground in charge of total flock and herd slaughter on infected farms is a memory that will stay with me forever, and I hate to think that it could ever happen to my own livestock, or to anyone in Australia.”

The FMD Ready project has established five producer-led pilot groups – one for each of the FMD susceptible livestock industries in Australia, which include beef, pork, sheep, dairy and goat. Pilot groups focus on biosecurity and surveillance areas of interest to them, which empowers participants and enables strong partnerships to form between farmers, vets and other stakeholders.

Erica took an interest in working with the WA sheep pilot group after experiencing the benefits of local farmers joining forces to manage ovine Johne’s disease (OJD) in the region.

“I thought that the opportunity to improve communication and linkages between all sectors in our industry (including agents, processors, transporters, saleyards and vets) would be highly beneficial and have positive implications in the management of endemic diseases,” said Ms Ayers.

According to Erica, her participation in the FMD Ready sheep pilot group has reinforced the need for education about the signs of FMD and what to do if you suspect an EAD, and for better targeting of information to ensure that everyone who owns or works with livestock is aware of the risks.

“There’s a lack of understanding in the industry of the risks of FMD being introduced and spread, and the consequences this would have. As part of the FMD Ready sheep pilot group, we’ve attempted to educate farmers around the investigation of unusual signs and who to contact, to reduce the fear of the unknown.”

“Involvement in this pilot has made it clear to me that producer groups are becoming more and more important. They’re a trusted source of information for farmers and in the event of an outbreak, these groups would be invaluable to the government responding to the incident, as they can provide contacts and local knowledge as well as get information out to a lot of people in a short period of time,” Ms Ayers explained.

The FMD Ready Project is supported by Meat & Livestock Australia, through funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture 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, leveraging significant in-kind support from the research partners.

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

For more information about the Project visit http://research.csiro.au/fmd/.