Wednesday, July 6, 2022

MPI lifts FMD outbreak readiness

New Zealand’s capacity to manage a foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak has advanced since a report critical of disease management was released earlier this year.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has responded to a series of questions from The New Zealand Farmers Weekly about the issues highlighted in an Auditor-General’s report earlier this year.

That report had reservations about MPI preparedness for managing a FMD outbreak.

Concerns were also raised by Massey University EpiCentre Associate Professor Mark Stevenson about staffing levels and skills to manage an outbreak (Farmers Weekly May 13).

The lack of a plan to manage such a disease outbreak has been addressed since the Auditor-General’s report was released.

MPI’s deputy director general for compliance and response Andrew Coleman said a whole of NZ strategy was being developed and required extensive consultation with other authorities and industry.

Under this came management of other issues raised in the report, including carcase disposal and vaccination options.

A key issue cited by the report was the status of the country’s only certified animal health laboratory capable of analysing the FMD virus, which is nearing the end of its life span.

Delays in construction and completion of a new laboratory risk leaving the country without a secure, capable facility for processing FMD samples until later this decade.

Coleman said development of a new lab was in the early, pre-design phase and it was difficult to give a definite time of completion.

“The project is dependent on funding being approved, following submission of a business case during the 2013-14 financial year,” he said.

A new lab will have the capacity to work with a live FMD virus. It will also be to handle dozens of farm samples a week, addressing another concern that had been raised in the report.

The report noted no lab-based simulation of disease outbreak had been conducted. Coleman said a simulation was planned for later this year.

Stevenson had raised concerns over restructuring affecting staff experience and capacity at MPI for managing a disease outbreak. However, Coleman said work in staffing was ongoing.

“For example, the New Zealand Veterinary Laboratory Network is meeting in June and meeting agenda includes FMD laboratory preparedness, capability and capacity.”

Plans were also under way to source extra staff from the National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Disease (NCBID) partners, such as AsureQuality and AgResearch, and from overseas biosecurity partners.

Disease modelling after the United Kingdom outbreak has also been extended, based in part on the vast difference in the UK’s modelled and actual outcomes during the 2001 FMD outbreak.

“The New Zealand model has been validated against the main modelling tools used overseas, as well as against real overseas epidemic data,” Stevenson said.

“This is a significant advance on where we, and most of the world, were with respect to modelling 10 years ago.”

The grim prospect of disposing of up to one million carcases was also highlighted in the report as an area needing greater planning.

Coleman said significant work had gone into carcase-disposal planning, including a review of disposal options. Alternative methods to incineration or burial were also under consideration.

Preparedness for distribution and managing vaccination of remaining animals had also been criticised.

Coleman said vaccination remained an option only when other resources for stamping out an FMD outbreak were overwhelmed.

“Vaccine will not be used pre-emptively due to the current trade implications of such an action, although this is likely to change when World Organisation for Animal Health Codes are considered for amendment next year.”

MPI has also taken on board a recommendation to conduct more FMD outbreak simulations, similar to the Exercise Taurus done last year.

Another exercise is planned for next month and the plan is to test regularly different parts of the response system.

Coleman said MPI was confident that in partnership with primary-sector industries, local and central government, it could manage the response to an FMD outbreak.

“Systems are under continual refinement to ensure a rapid and effective response to a significant disease outbreak such as FMD,” he said.

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