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The benefits of early detection in protecting the livestock industry from disease

By Mark Corrigan, District Veterinarian

Working as both a private and government vet during the United Kingdom foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in 2001, I have personally experienced the impacts that a delay in detection has on the spread of a disease like FMD.

By the time FMD was diagnosed at a UK abattoir, it was believed that the disease had been in the country for at least four weeks, if not longer. The lack of early detection resulted in a number of livestock movements spreading FMD to most parts of the UK. Over 800 infected farms were diagnosed, resulting in an estimated £14 billion cost to the British economy.

After this disease was controlled, I continued to work as a veterinarian in the UK. During this period I observed the long-term economic, emotional and broader societal consequences of the outbreak.

So how does this affect you here in Australia?

The faster we can detect an emergency animal disease within our livestock, the better placed industry and our local, state and national agencies are to work with livestock producers to control it. An outbreak of FMD in any state in Australia would devastate the agricultural industry and communities countrywide. Recent modelling by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has predicted a large FMD outbreak would have an impact on the Australian economy of up to $55 billion over 10 years.

Early control reduces the spread and the cost to the agricultural industry, our communities and the Australian economy.  This is where you, as livestock producers and small holders, are critical at the frontline in the early detection of disease through surveillance.

Disease surveillance and reporting can be undertaken by all livestock producers. Observing an increase in sick animals or animal deaths, or any signs consistent with an emergency animal disease, should be the trigger for you to contact your private or district veterinarian. This will enable them or organise or undertake disease investigations, firstly to rule out exotic disease, but also to diagnose exactly what is occurring. It will also allow them to put in place management and preventative measures to increase your livestock health and profitability.

If you are unable to contact a vet, the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline can be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 675 888.

Ongoing surveillance is important to ensure the early detection of animal diseases that might impact on trade, regional or national productivity, public health, or biodiversity. You are urged to call to protect yourself, your livestock, your industry and your community.

For more information please contact Murray Local Land Services on 1300 795 299 or Agriculture Victoria 136 186.