When foot-and-mouth disease broke out in the UK in 2001 officials’ slow responses led to a possibly preventable, far-reaching spread of the disease. With a driving need to avoid a similar situation should the disease makes its way here Western Australian cattle industry stakeholders put together a three-day exercise to practice their responses.
Bunbury was inundated with representatives from local, state and federal emergency services and cattle industry leaders for exercise ‘Apollo’.
The scenario worked from the premise that cattle purchased in the south-west, which had been imported from Queensland were showing the signs of foot-and-mouth disease.
Stakeholders worked together to create a plan that would halt the disease in its path and cull the sick cattle. The team also had to ensure that no other cattle had been infected in the process.
Mia Carbon, WA chief veterinary officer told the ABC that the millions of cattle and sheep eradicated in the UK’s 2001 outbreak still weighed heavily on the livestock industry.
“A key lesson we’ve learnt from that disaster was the absolute importance of stopping the disease early and using that as a chance to get out in front of the disease,” said Carbon.
“As a result of what we learnt from that, Australia’s policy is now that we would implement a national livestock standstill either on confirmation or strong suspicion or foot-and-mouth disease.
“Another key finding was the significance of the economic and social impact which, in cases like this, has a massive knock-on effect to communities, especially rural communities like we have here in WA.”
Australia currently has a clean bill of health when it comes to foot-and-mouth disease, said Carbon. However, she confirms that the most likely chance of an outbreak would be from meat that had not been properly declared and the disease would then be circulated by pigs.
“It’s a highly contagious disease, which is why it’s so important to have these systems in place,” Carbon said.
“While not a threat to human health it spreads very, very quickly between susceptible livestock.”