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22 March 2001
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has taken the first step in a two-pronged campaign to increase public awareness of foot and mouth disease, with a mail-out to some 178,000 rural box holders.
The two page letter, which is co-signed by Federated Farmers, outlines the symptoms of the disease and gives clear instructions on what to do in the event of a suspected find.
"This doesn't mean we accept that it is inevitable foot and mouth will occur in New Zealand," says the President of Federated Farmers, Alistair Polson. "But as the UK experience has shown, it is vital that rural residents are able to recognise the symptoms of the disease immediately."
MAF Director-General, Professor Bruce Ross, says the mail-out aims to have every farmer in the country aware of what the first symptoms of the disease look like, and what to do if they see anything suspicious. "The crisis in the UK demonstrates clearly that the earlier the disease is detected, the greater the chances of control.
"The information may appear simple, but every rural dweller, whether they run a huge dairy herd, a high country sheep station, or a hobby farm, needs to know what they can do to help protect New Zealand from this devastating stock disease," says Professor Ross.
"Any outbreak of foot and mouth disease here would be an unprecedented shock to the economy, far beyond the realms of any previous experience. We are determined to take every step available to ensure it never happens."
Along with the mail out to rural residents, the Ministry is also planning a campaign to make New Zealand's urban population aware that foot and mouth would not just be a problem for the farm.
"We want to improve New Zealand-wide awareness so that all Kiwis know what they should do to protect New Zealand's biosecurity when returning from overseas or importing goods," says Professor Ross.
There will also be extra communication material at the borders, so that incoming travellers are informed of the peril foot and mouth poses to this country, and actions they can take to help ensure it doesn't get in.
"There has never been an incursion of foot and mouth into New Zealand. This doesn't imply that we can relax, but it does imply that if New Zealanders are informed and vigilant, there is a realistic chance we can continue to keep it out."
In funding the public awareness campaign, the Government is making it clear that foot and mouth must be taken very seriously. While the images of the UK crisis are disturbing, New Zealanders need to realise that the main threat of the disease comes from Asia. While the European outbreak is temporary, the threat from Asia is not.
Professor Ross says last year there were 490 outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in South-east Asia alone. "It is opportune to make the point that the foot and mouth risk to New Zealand is not new, it will not go away when the current European outbreak clears, and people need to be on the look out continually."