NZ Contributes to International Code on Scrapie

2 May 2000

New Zealand’s leadership in the field of animal health risk analysis has led to a MAF expert being invited to join a four person OIE working group writing the International Animal Health Code chapter on the sheep disease scrapie.

The OIE is the world animal health organisation and has around 150 member countries. One of its main functions is working to stop the spread of animal diseases, and one tool it uses in this battle is a disease notification system.

MAF Biosecurity’s Manager of Risk Management, Dr Stuart MacDiarmid, says New Zealand’s membership of the OIE gave us the benefit of hearing about the recent outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in Japan and Korea within 24 hours of notification of the disease. "This early warning enabled us to put extra control measures in place at the border," he

Another way the organisation protects world animal health is by developing standards by which international experts agree that animals or animal products can be traded without the risk of spreading disease. These standards are known as the International Animal Health Code.

There is currently no chapter in the Code on the sheep disease scrapie. Dr MacDiarmid says it’s not been an issue for many Northern Hemisphere countries because they all have the disease. But since the BSE (commonly known as "mad cow disease") epidemic in Europe, it has become more of a concern, because many scientists believe BSE originated from scrapie.

Dr MacDiarmid says it’s important that the international standards developed are adequate to ensure that countries such as New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, which are accepted as being scrapie-free, have their animal health status protected. "We have achieved this status by very careful import policies and thorough disease surveillance," he says.

Stuart MacDiarmid has been invited to join the working group developing the scrapie standards because of his recognised expertise in animal health risk analysis, his previous experience with prion diseases (which include scrapie and BSE), and his experience with disease surveillance programmes.

"It’s significant for New Zealand, Australia and South Africa that we’re represented on this working group because we have a community of interest which is different from North America and Europe," he says. "It’s really important that the new standards are as science-based and objective as possible. It’s definitely in New Zealand’s interest that we are able to participate in this process.

The ad hoc working group will submit its draft chapter to the OIE’s Code Commission which will distribute it to the all member countries for feedback. Any necessary revision will be made and the document resent to members for further comment. The final version will be tabled before the General Session of the OIE which will take a final vote on the chapter in May 2001.

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