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Future Farmers Network member and dairy industry guru Amabel Grinter travelled to Nepal in November to participate in the EuFMD Foot and Mouth Disease Real Time Training program, thanks to FFN, Gardiner Foundation and the Australian Government. Read about it here! 

In November 2019, I travelled to Nepal with the European Commission for the control of Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) – FAO/UN (Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations). I joined 12 other Australians and 5 Nepali’s to learn about the spread and control of pandemic diseases. As the world becomes more and more globalised, biosecurity is becoming a major concern for the Australian Agricultural sector.

During our time in Nepal, we spent time learning in the classroom and through practical application of the skills learned. Some of the main topics covered included FMD diagnosis, the Australian policy and management in an FMD outbreak, vaccination, biosecurity, epidemiology and outbreak investigation.

The practical studies were undertaken in the villages of Sankhu and Godawari. Fortunately for Nepal, and unfortunately for the program, there were no confirmed cases of FMD in the country while we were there. We did visit farms which had had confirmed cases in the previous 12 months. During discussions with these farmers, we came to understand the devastating effect FMD can have both financially and psychologically on households. Even farmers whose animals hadn’t been affected by the virus were shaken up by FMD in their village. The financial implications were a 50% loss in milk production, long term chronic lameness, condition loss, treatment costs and animal deaths.

It was extremely interesting to think about the implications of an extreme disease outbreak back home regarding individual farms, and the industry as a whole. Biosecurity is a serious threat to our businesses and the entire economy.

Some of the key learnings for dairying:

If there was an FMD outbreak in Australia, Dairy would be massively affected.

  • Dairy cows aren’t as ‘hardy’ as tropical species which means they are more susceptible
  • In an FMD outbreak, the milk tanker becomes a significant spread risk factor. This is both through spread on tyres, but also FMD virus can live in the milk. This means that FMD virus can be spread through air which has been in contact with milk.
  • There is a government industry share agreement in the case of an FMD outbreak of 80:20. An outbreak would cost the Australian economy in excess of $52 billion. It would directly cost the Australian Dairy Industry a minimum of $21 million.

Some changes to make on farm to mitigate risk:

  • Develop a ‘closed herd’, or ensure any new animal purchased onto a property are placed in a quarantine area for two weeks. When it comes to on farm biosecurity measures, segregation is always best.

Points of interest from Nepal

  • The cow is Nepal’s sacred animal. This means that legally they are unable to euthanise. This leaves a big question of what happens with seriously sick animals, unproductive animals and bobby calves.
  • There are 6 million FMD susceptible animals in Nepal. There is vaccination available, requiring administration every six months. However, there are only 1.5 million doses of vaccine available. This makes controlling the disease through medical prevention difficult.
  • Nepal has large levels of corruption within their veterinary practitioners. Often technicians will not vaccinate the animals with the correct vaccine or even use water and they will charge for free government services.

Undertaking the FMD training has really opened my eyes to the threat our industry would face if a disease outbreak were to occur. Production would decrease, trade opportunities would cease, and the impact on our economy would be devastating. I hope I never have to experience a FMD crisis response in Australia, but am confident we are prepared if it were to occur. This training has reignited a passion for on farm biosecurity which I am continually monitoring and improving.