Dealing with Mycoplasma bovis has helped prepare New Zealand should it face an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), says Ray Smith, the director general of the Ministry for Primary Industries.
He told the China Business Seminar this week that five years of dealing with M bovis, NZ’s largest biosecurity incursion, has built capability and traceability.
Australia and NZ have heightened border protection after FMD was discovered in Indonesia.
Responding to a question from the audience, Smith said MPI’s importing standards are focused on keeping the disease out with imports assessed and treated according to the biosecurity status of the country from which they originate.
Despite that, Smith said there is no guarantee FMD will not arrive, but lessons learnt from M bovis will be useful if it does.
“We have built a capability and workforce in tracing including a new laboratory in Wallaceville capable of doing 7000 test a day,” he said.
An effective response relies on people with experience in biosecurity incursions.
“You can write as many plans as you like, but if you have never done one, then you will struggle.”
Smith said the first 72 hours are critical.
“If it is found on a farm then we circle that farm with a 10km radius and stop all animal movements for 72hrs in that circle.
“Every farmer will be sent out with their rural advisor or vet professional to check their animals.”
The best way to find the disease is through animal inspection.
“Then we narrow down the circle and start culling and disinfecting – that’s how you deal with it.
“It will be ghastly.”
The biggest challenge will be restoring trade and consumer confidence.
Smith said fast lanes through customs and immigration at airports were removed during covid travel restrictions and remain closed.
There are no exemptions.
“Every bag goes through xray to see if someone has a food product they shouldn’t have.
“We have also cut down the types and volume of food products people can bring.”
Travellers from Indonesia will have already been checked in Australia but on arrival in NZ are subject to a full baggage check and sent through foot baths.
Recent reports of MPI staff visiting sale yards is business as usual for animal welfare NAIT inspection, according to a ministry spokesperson.
Mary van Andel, the MPI’s chief veterinary officer, said since the outbreak there have been offers of support including from hundreds of people from across the primary sector willing to join any response effort.
She likened an FMD outbreak to the covid-19 pandemic.
MPI employs about 300 vets, with the majority attached to meat processing premises, so these and other vets within MPI would be available to help.
“We work closely with private vets around NZ, and in the event of an FMD outbreak, we would look to enhance that relationship,” she said.
NZ also has agreements to access vets from Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom if needed.