From the Chief Veterinary Officer
1 August 2022
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Veterinary Council of New Zealand (VCNZ), and New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) are now working together on communications to veterinarians about foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
As Chief Veterinary Officer, I have been asked to lead this work and would like to update you on what is being done to protect our country from FMD, as well as what you can do to help.
MPI is leading New Zealand’s preparedness in the unlikely event FMD reaches our shores. The risk of an FMD outbreak in New Zealand remains low, and our current strategy is all about protection and surveillance. Our key priority is keeping foot-and-mouth out of New Zealand.
MPI’s General Animal Surveillance Programme, our system for early detection of exotic and emerging diseases, relies on private veterinarians across New Zealand being alert for possible exotic diseases, including FMD. If you would like to contact one of the investigation team to discuss a case that is worrying you, please don’t hesitate to ring 0800 80 99 66.
What is the risk?
While FMD is a major biosecurity threat, the risk to New Zealand remains low.
Our existing protections at the border include our rigorous Import Health Standards that mitigate the risk of disease entering New Zealand with animals or animal products. We also have 100% x-ray of all luggage, both carry-on and check-in on the passenger pathway, as well as questioning by Biosecurity staff and checks by detector dogs. The mail and container pathways have risk-based inspections.
Despite the low risk, Biosecurity New Zealand (the biosecurity arm of MPI) is committed to constantly reassessing our multi-layered biosecurity settings as we have done with regard to FMD.
We have taken steps to boost protections at the border, including stepping up checks at airports, introducing disinfectant mats for people returning from Indonesia to clean their footwear, an awareness campaign targeting travellers, and an on-the-ground audit of the palm kernel supply chain in Indonesia. An FMD Taskforce has been established to ensure all our preparedness work is refreshed and we are assisting our colleagues in Indonesia by providing personal protective equipment, disinfectant, backpack sprayers and other tools to help on the ground.
MPI did an on-the-ground audit in June this year of Indonesia’s palm kernel supply chain and that audit shows Indonesia is meeting our strict biosecurity requirements for foot-and-mouth disease. More information can be found in here .
We are also taking an extra precaution and stopping travellers from Indonesia bringing in personal consignments of any meat product.
Previously travellers from Indonesia could bring in declared cooked or treated meat, with the highest risk uncooked meat products already prohibited. Given the importance of protecting our vital primary sector, this is a good further step to take for now. We will reassess the suspension at the appropriate time.
Please remember that, on arrival to New Zealand, we strongly urge anyone who was in contact with livestock in Indonesia, to stay away from farms and susceptible animals in New Zealand for one week.
What you can do now
As well as our bolstered border measures and enhanced readiness work, we are also encouraging on-farm surveillance. We encourage veterinarians to ensure they are familiar with the clinical signs of FMD. See Signs of foot-and-mouth disease: information for vets .
If you suspect a case of FMD, please call the 24-hour hotline: 0800 80 99 66. Remember that this hotline is a resource that you can use if you are concerned about a case. We want you to have a low bar to call this number.
If you ring the 0800 number, you’ll be put through to an Incursion Investigator from the team based at the animal health laboratory at Wallaceville. After discussing the clinical presentation, and asking a number of questions, they will either rule out vesicular disease or get one of the regionally based Initial Investigating Veterinarians (IIV) to come and examine the animals. The IIV will then make an assessment to stand the call down or to regard it as “not negative”. If it is “not negative”, an investigator will come and examine the herd and take samples if the case presentation warrants that, and if warranted, put movement controls on the farm.
Advising farmers and other large animal owners
Veterinarians remain some of the most trusted advisors on farm. You can help farmers prepare by helping them review or develop biosecurity plans. Some resources include:
Farmers will also need to consider and plan for ensuring animals have access to food and water in the event of movement bans, and this should include animals that are not susceptible to FMD.
Pig owners should be advised that it’s illegal to feed pigs untreated meat or waste that might have contacted raw meat. These products must be cooked for at least an hour at 100 degrees Celsius. More information can be found here: https://www.mpi.govt.nz/animals/animal-feed-preventing-disease-transfer/feeding-food-waste-to-pigs-and-preventing-disease/ .
It is essential that NAIT records are kept up to date and ASDs are properly filled out. It is good practice to keep records of all animal movements, even those not required by NAIT.
What would happen if an outbreak occurred?
MPI has the capacity to test for FMD in New Zealand, both by ELISA (antibodies) and PCR (detection of viral genome). Turnaround time for processing of a sample is around eight hours. No confirmatory testing would be required before an official response was launched. Strain typing is carried out in the United Kingdom at the World Organisation for Animal Health reference laboratory.
If FMD was confirmed through a test at the Animal Health Laboratory, this would trigger the declaration of a Biosecurity Emergency under Part 7 of the Biosecurity Act 1993. Declaring a Biosecurity Emergency would provide very broad powers to MPI for the management of the outbreak and to facilitate disease control. These powers could cover surveillance, investigation, movement control, organism management and other powers to manage the crisis.
An FMD outbreak would be a major response, requiring contributions from across government and industry, similar to the COVID-19 pandemic.
MPI has produced an infographic setting out what the first three days of an outbreak could look like and a web page with more detailed information.
If an outbreak occurred, vaccines could be used to control spread of the disease. New Zealand has an emergency arrangement in place with a vaccine bank in the UK which hold FMD vaccine components in a ready state for our exclusive use. There is functionality within NAIT for recording vaccinated animals. More information on vaccines is available here.
How to keep up to date
MPI, NZVA and VCNZ will keep you updated on developments through the regular NZVA VetNews (fortnightly) and VCNZ Update (monthly). You can also keep an eye on the MPI FMD page and the NZVA FMD hub for news and updated resources.
Ngā mihi nui
Mary van Andel
MPI Chief Veterinary Officer