Foot and mouth disease: a reason to be prepared

An outbreak of the animal health illness foot and mouth disease (FMD) has never occurred in New Zealand, but it still presents a major threat for which food processors and the country needs to be prepared. Red meat is one of the sectors with most to lose and it has been directly involved in the development of the Ministry of Primary Industries’ (MPI) FMD Preparedness Programme.

Paul Goldstone, MIAPaul Goldstone, the Meat Industry Association (MIA)’s senior policy advisor (pictured right) represents New Zealand’s red meat processors in the FMD Preparedness Programme’s Industry Steering Group.

He explains that even though it has no implications for food safety or human health, FMD is an extremely contagious viral animal disease that has the potential to severely impact on the productivity of cloven-footed animals including cattle, pigs, sheep and deer and disrupt this country’s export trade.

“To put it simply, a FMD incursion into New Zealand would be a disaster for the meat industry,” he says.

The FMD Preparedness Programme started up in 2012 to review and update New Zealand’s capacity and ability to handle an outbreak. This was a programme led by MPI with considerable livestock sector input (including from MIA) to improve the readiness of New Zealand to a possible FMD incursion.

An economic impact assessment by MPI on an imaginary outbreak on the North Island, showed lost export earnings ranged up to a potential $5.87 billion lost during a large scale incident, which would potentially also incur eradication costs of $1.1 billion. The MPI analysis showed that New Zealand’s GDP would fall by 7.8 percent ($13.8 billion) in the first year after the event only returning to 0.5 percent growth the following year.
There would be a major loss of production as meat and dairy export businesses – farms and meat and dairy processing plants – would stop operating normally for three to 12 months, or longer, plus a loss of market access of at least six months or more.
For those reasons the red meat industry was 100 percent behind the initiative.

“It really was a no brainer,” says Goldstone. “Last year, we saw very considerable progress towards improving New Zealand’s FMD preparedness,” he notes, adding that the commitment of the MPI team towards the task was commendable and describing it as a “true partnership approach” between MPI and industry.

Big strides forward have been made in a number of key projects, which were more demanding than initially envisaged, according to Goldstone. These include some of the basic operational policies and plans for the immediate destruction of infected herds and disinfection of infected sites, as well as policies and plans for the deployment of FMD vaccine if the disease is at risk of spreading further. Other issues dealt with were carcase disposal right from the start of an outbreak and controls on the movement of livestock around the country.

The next few years will see plenty more work ahead for the FMD Preparedness team. This includes: development of biosecurity emergency regulations; a communication plan; looking at operational resourcing for the critical first 72 hours; FMD readiness and maintenance; on-farm biosecurity guidelines; resource mapping; and negotiation with overseas regulators to allow meat exports to resume as quickly as possible after a FMD incursion, which is of particular concern to MIA members, Goldstone says.

MIA is also progressing new Risk Organisation Response Plan templates with industry and MPI, so processors will have a nationally consistent response plan available to use when responding to an FMD outbreak.

Another important by-product for the meat industry has been the development of some very positive relationships with MPI, says Goldstone.

The excellent progress made in 2014 slowed this year with the departure of some staff at MPI and also the Ministry responding to biosecurity incursions such as the fruitfly incursion, he says.

“However, we are pleased that MPI is once again committing resources to ensure the FMD programme continues.”

The next steps in MPI’s programme to put a comprehensive and coherent FMD plan in place include projects focusing on compensation, a whole of Government plan, NZ Inc’s FMD response plan, recovery, animal welfare and trade policy.

From the meat industry’s perspective, according to Goldstone, the latter is now key with negotiation of pre-agreements with New Zealand’s range of trading partners seen as a priority.

“The biggest cause of loss to the industry is not from the disease itself, but from overseas regulators banning the import of product from a country that has had FMD. Restoring access to overseas markets can take a very long time, so negotiating pre-agreements to allow for the rapid resumption of trade after FMD is a priority for industry,” he says.

Key to this will be MPI’s continued work with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) – which determines animal disease-free status internationally, including FMD – and key markets such as the EU, US, Australia, Japan and Canada and new markets including China.

This article has appeared in Food NZ magazine (October/November 2015) and is reproduced here with permission.


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