MAF Tests Emergency Exotic Disease Response Systems

26 March 2001

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's exotic disease response systems are being tested this week with a simulated outbreak of the serious poultry disease Newcastle disease.

The Poultry Industry Association's Executive Director, Bob Diprose, says the exercise is vital to ensure we can effectively respond to an outbreak, should one occur in New Zealand. "New Zealand is fortunate to be free of several major poultry diseases including Newcastle disease and avian influenza," he says. "Newcastle disease is the foot and mouth disease of the poultry industry."

Newcastle disease is a very contagious viral disease of domestic poultry, cage and aviary birds, and native and wild birds. Signs of the disease can range from a drop in production through to high mortality rates in affected flocks. The disease occurs in most parts of the world, except for Australia and New Zealand, and Australia has recently had outbreaks. The closest active infection to New Zealand is in Indonesia.

The MAF Biosecurity Authority's National Manager of Surveillance and Response, Allen Bryce, says the simulation provides valuable training for those who would be involved in real exotic disease responses, and also tests the Ministry's ability to respond to an exotic disease outbreak. Simulations are held annually. In previous years MAF has held exercises based on foot and mouth disease. This year the exercise deals with Newcastle disease.

"The principles are the same," says Dr Bryce. "By testing our ability to respond to Newcastle disease, we are testing our ability to respond to foot and mouth and other exotic animal diseases."

The exercise simulates an outbreak of Newcastle disease detected in Pukekohe, south of Auckland. "We are setting up a Field Operations Response Centre in Pukekohe, and there will also be activity at the Exotic Disease Response Centre at Wallaceville, Upper Hutt and in MAF Head Office in Wellington," says Dr Bryce.

"In the event of a real outbreak, there would be restrictions on the movement of poultry, poultry products and risk goods such as poultry manure. Infected flocks would have to be destroyed," he says.

According to Bob Diprose, an outbreak of the disease would be devastating for the poultry industry and for New Zealand. "The industry produces $700 million worth of product annually, and employs 3,500 people. Chicken meat and eggs provide an important part of the diet of many New Zealanders," Mr Diprose says. "Newcastle disease would threaten the viability of the industry, and New Zealand would have to import more or export less in order to compensate for the reduced local production of chicken meat and eggs."

Mr Diprose says the industry is delighted to be working with MAF on the exercise. "There are mutual benefits to both the industry and MAF, and for the nation's biosecurity," he says.

Dr Bryce stresses that this week's activity is only a simulation. "Even if we had an outbreak, Newcastle disease presents no risk to food safety or to the general public. There is no outbreak - it is only a training exercise. There is no sign of any exotic disease in New Zealand poultry."

For further information contact:

Allen Bryce, National Manager, Surveillance and Response, Biosecurity Authority phone 04 470 2787
Bob Diprose, Executive Director, Poultry Industry Association phone 025 929 438

Contact MPI

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