Bringing UK experience to New Zealand animal disease outbreak management

Media contact: Lesley Patston

Enhancing New Zealand’s ability to manage outbreaks of significant animal disease, in particular foot and mouth disease (FMD), is a priority for the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

New Zealand’s economic prosperity is highly dependant on our current FMD-free status and our ability to manage an outbreak of FMD, should it ever arrive here.

The focus on preparedness is being strengthened this week with the departure of three of MPI’s senior managers to the UK for a week to work on a major disease simulation there.

Deputy Director General, Compliance and Response, Andrew Coleman, Director of Response, Veronica Herrera and Manager of Surveillance and Incursion Investigation, Paul Bingham will attend Exercise Walnut which will simulate a national scale outbreak of swine fever. The exercise will test the UK’s existing plans and policies for the control and eradication of a significant exotic notifiable disease.

“A key component of our preparation for a major disease outbreak is researching and exercising possible scenarios, both here in New Zealand and internationally,” Andrew Coleman says.

“Walnut will give us first hand experience of how our UK counterparts manage disease outbreaks. While this particular simulation is of an outbreak of swine fever, the principles are the same for any significant animal disease. We are especially interested in the exercise focus on the traceability of animals, management of stock and disposal of carcasses.”

The officials will also visit the Pirbright Institute which is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and an integral component of New Zealand’s FMD vaccine programme.

Mr Coleman says collaboration with other countries is vital to ensure New Zealand’s preparation is in line with international disease control best practice.

“We’re also doing this closer to home. The recently announced trans-Tasman action plan between Australia and New Zealand will see defences against the threat of foot and mouth disease (FMD) strengthened in both countries."

Two members of MPI’s animal response team are currently in Australia working with officials at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) on the ground work for this plan.

Mr Coleman says over the years, New Zealand’s government agriculture and biosecurity agencies (MPI and its predecessors MAF and MAF Biosecurity New Zealand) have invested significant time and resource into preparing for an FMD outbreak.

"MPI already has a well developed level of general response readiness which has been complemented by specific FMD preparedness work.

"We recognise, however, that being ready to respond to significant animal disease outbreaks requires continuous effort and MPI is making timely and significant improvements to the capability that already exists.”

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