Traceability of animals, management of stock and the disposal of carcases are on the radar for three senior Ministry of Primary Industries’ (MPI) managers who are heading off to the UK to work on a major animal disease simulation there. The work will strengthen New Zealand’s foot and mouth disease preparedness, says MPI.
Deputy director general compliance and response Andrew Coleman, director of response Veronica Herrera and manager of surveillance and incursion investigation Paul Bingham will attend Exercise Walnut, which will simulate a national scale outbreak of swine fever. The exercise will test the UK’s existing plans and policies for the control and eradication of a significant exotic notifiable disease.
“A key component of our preparation for a major disease outbreak is researching and exercising possible scenarios, both here in New Zealand and internationally,” Andrew Coleman says.
Walnut will give the team first-hand experience of how their UK counterparts manage disease outbreaks. “While this particular simulation is of an outbreak of swine fever, the principles are the same for any significant animal disease. We are especially interested in the exercise focus on the traceability of animals, management of stock and disposal of carcases,” he says.
The officials will also visit the Pirbright Institute, which is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and an integral component of New Zealand’s foot and mouth (FMD) vaccine programme.
Collaboration with other countries is essential to ensure New Zealand’s preparation is in line with international disease control best practice.
“We’re also doing this closer to home. The recently announced trans-Tasman action plan between Australia and New Zealand will see defences against the threat of foot and mouth disease (FMD) strengthened in both countries.”
Two members of MPI’s animal response team are currently in Australia working with officials at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) on the ground work for this plan.
Key activities under the joint NZ-Australia plan include:
- sharing intelligence on emerging animal health risks facing this region
- Developing and improving training activities and FMD detection capabilities, including training in exotic animal disease recognition and participating in joint activities
- sharing and comparing economic and disease models of FMD to inform management strategies
- collaborating on policy development, approaches and operational plans for vaccination and carcase disposal
- participating in simulation exercises to explore how response efforts can be supported in the event of an incursion.
Preventing an outbreak, however, is the first priority for both countries.
Coleman says that over the years, New Zealand’s government agriculture and biosecurity agencies (MPI) and its predecessors MAF and MAF Biosecurity New Zealand have invested significant time and resource into preparing for a FMD outbreak.
“MPI already has a well developed level of general response readiness which has been complemented by specific FMD preparedness work,” he says. “We recognise, however, that being ready to respond to significant animal disease outbreaks requires continuous effort and MPI is making timely and significant improvements to the capability that already exists.”
Enhancing New Zealand’s ability to manage outbreaks of significant animal disease, in particular FMD is a priority for MPI. New Zealand’s economic prosperity is highly dependent on this country’s current FMD-free status and ability to manage an outbreak, should it ever arrive here.