February 27, 2024


Victoria, Australia, invests into animal health preparations as disease threat rises globally




The Chief Veterinary Officer of Victoria, Australia, cautioned that the risk of extremely serious animal diseases is rising worldwide, with the risk faced by Australia also increasing.


This is due to some of these diseases occurring in Southeast Asia and they will be around in region "for some time to come," said Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Graeme Cooke.


At the top of the livestock list is foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Indonesia, on Australia's northern doorstep, had an FMD outbreak in 2022.


"(FMD is the) number one on the exotic disease list for all countries around the world as their highest priority disease to control and eradicate where possible," Agriculture Victoria's animal health and welfare director Les Howard said. "It can come in through the sea ports on illegally imported products such as foodstuffs."


In 2022, Indonesia also had an outbreak of lumpy skin disease (LSD) that primarily affects cattle and buffalo.


Such outbreaks have put Australia on high alert. They have prompted a strengthening of disease preparedness activities between government agencies and livestock industry groups.


As such, the Victorian government recently committed $43 million towards technology, staff training, better testing labs and other measures, including a former COVID-19 ambulance converted into a mobile field laboratory.


The government also funded a recent full dress rehearsal — complete with hazardous chemical suits — of a mock outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The scenario involved regional government veterinarians from across Victoria enacting emergency testing procedures on cattle and sheep at two separate farms.


"It's really trying to prepare us as much as possible if we did have an incursion of FMD or some other serious exotic disease," Agriculture Victoria District Veterinary Officer Dr. Cathy Bunter said. "[It was about] preparing our staff, preparing our systems and making sure that we have as much in place as possible to actually protect us and to protect our industries."


A real-life outbreak of a disease like FMD could paralyse Australia's multi-billion dollar livestock industries almost overnight. Economic modelling has calculated it would cost about $80 billion over 10 years.


"That's largely associated with the impacts on trade in animal products from Australia and obviously, that's such an important part of our exports," said Dr. Katherine Clift, executive director of Biosecurity Victoria.


The world has seen a large death toll of livestock from exotic diseases in recent years. In 2018, China experienced an outbreak of African swine fever (ASF). It is estimated more than 200 million pigs were slaughtered or culled as a result.


More recently, Australia has been on high alert against newer, more virulent strains of avian influenza that affect poultry and wild birds.


Dr. Cooke said Australia had to approach disease preparedness in the same way it prepared for natural disasters.


"We need to make it second nature where we're thinking in the way that Australia thinks about so many other threats, bushfires being one of them," he said.

- ABC News

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