Survey submissions point to biosecurity gaps

Are Australia’s biosecurity measures and preparedness levels for a threat such as foot-and-mouth disease adequate?

This question is currently being tested by an investigation by the Standing Senate Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transportation.

With over 70 submissions from organizations and interested parties now published, it is clear that many believe the answer is ‘no’.

Various submissions point to gaps in the biosecurity system that have been identified by previous independent reviews, and a lack of effective response from federal governments in the years that followed.

Concerns identified include outdated biosecurity treatment procedures, a shortage of veterinarians, the limitations of current livestock traceability systems, gaps in wildlife disease surveillance, and inadequate penalties for biosecurity non-compliance. .

A number of submissions cite previous reviews that highlighted gaps in the biosecurity system and a lack of effective government responses.

For example a Australian National Audit Office submission (click here to download a PDF document) draws attention to a review carried out by the Auditor General in 2020-2021 which assessed the provisions made by the Department of Agriculture to respond to non-compliance with biosecurity requirements, and its compliance framework, as ” largely inappropriate”.

A Freight and Trade Alliance the submission points to a report by the Biosecurity Inspector General in February 2021 which showed that the biosecurity system is not in a strong position to deal with the diverse and evolving biosecurity risks and business environment that is expected prevail until 2025. Despite this, an outdated biosecurity treatment system is still in place.

The Australian Veterinary Association The submission acknowledges recent government work to strengthen biosecurity measures at borders and at freight and mail hubs, but adds that the contribution of veterinarians to animal disease emergency surveillance and preparedness remains insufficiently recognized and supported. .

“We believe that government and industry have not developed an effective response to the issues identified by the Frawley (2003) and Matthews (2011) reports, and the conclusions of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) 2015 Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS) Audit.”

As stated in a previous Beef Central article, in March 2020 SAFE MEAT made five recommendations to the federal government to improve Australia’s livestock traceability system.

It calls for adequate funding of public-private partnerships between government and private veterinary sectors, and a coordinated framework to ensure adequate veterinary capacity for disease surveillance, prevention and control.

In its communication, SAFEMEAT acknowledges that work is underway at the request of agriculture ministers, but urges immediate action to implement the recommendations to ensure Australia has critical infrastructure, including including improvements to the current sheep and goat traceability system operating across Australia and the establishment of an Australian livestock traceability system management framework.

“SAFEMEAT has emphasized that there is significant risk associated with inaction, particularly in the context of foot and mouth disease,” the submission reads.

“If implemented, the SAFEMEAT recommendations will ensure that the integrity of Australia’s livestock industries is maintained, establish a foundation that will meet the Commonwealth Government’s biosecurity objectives and cement Australia as a global leader. livestock biosecurity and traceability systems.”

The Australian Livestock Council says there is a need to immediately strengthen and strengthen biosecurity resources, including a substantial increase in biosecurity detector dogs for increased inbound passenger, mail and cargo volumes, and to focus on early detection, especially for exotic diseases transmitted by airborne vectors such as Lumpy skin disease.

Its submission also calls for continued support to Indonesia to contain and eradicate foot-and-mouth disease and LSD, the development of livestock vaccines and rapid diagnostics, and the development and implementation of a sustainable funding model. term for nationally consistent livestock biosecurity and traceability.

A submission from a group of ranchers led by NSW sheep and cattle producer Angus Hobson argues that Australia’s biosecurity system is underfunded and inadequate to rule out or mitigate an incursion of foot and mouth disease.

Mr Hobson said the group believes federal and state government and industry bodies are overestimating Australia’s ability to quickly and effectively control and eradicate an incursion of foot-and-mouth disease, and underestimating how quickly the nation could restore market access. (See separate article on their submission here)

The red meat sector Integrity Systems Society stresses the need for a “greater sense of urgency”. His brief indicates that the National Biosecurity Strategy published in August 2022 is imperative to foster greater coordination of biosecurity management efforts at the national level, strong accountability is also necessary.

“The main comments provided by ISC on the draft were the need to inject a greater sense of urgency into the strategy. There is still concern that there is an element of convenience in the strategy given the protracted nature of the development of the implementation plan. He adds that references to “a 6-12 month planning phase” in the strategy seem excessive, given that the nature of the issues to be addressed under the strategy is clear.

“It will also be crucial to ensure that industries such as red meat and livestock are properly represented and involved in governance structures and implementation planning, which has yet to be confirmed. “

The ISC submission also highlights the need for tougher penalties: “Too often industry observes inadequate penalties being applied under national traceability legislation, which also impacts the effectiveness of biosecurity controls that are in place to mitigate risk.

“For example, a Victorian producer seriously compromised the national traceability system by falsely documenting the birthplace of cattle being prepared for export. The producer received a two-year bond of good conduct and was also ordered to pay costs of $135.82. This was after a court case that lasted almost 2 years.

In addition to strengthening the case for urgent implementation of the SAFEMEAT traceability recommendations, the Red Meat Advisory Council says 2022-23 is the time to start a large-scale aerial shooting and ground poisoning and trapping program for wild pests.

“The fact that these wild animals have been able to spread to such large numbers and wide distribution represents a long-term failure of state/territory wildlife regulation and control/eradication programs,” its submission reads.

A group comprising 33 former Chief Veterinarians and Senior Government Veterinarians says the federal government should act now to adopt a “one health” approach to managing human, animal and environmental health, recognizing that “human, animal and environmental health are intrinsically linked”.

While several factors have significantly increased the global risks of epidemic disease in Australia, the COVID19 pandemic has exposed gaps in current response systems.

In their submission, they urge Australia to embrace “the strong global drive towards a one health approach” in which multidisciplinary teams – made up of health professionals, veterinarians, epidemiologists, ecologists, virologists, bacteriologists, public health experts, risk analysts, economists, sociologists, policy experts, community representatives and communication experts — working together to fight diseases that impact in several sectors.

The ‘One Health’ call was also directly supported in the submission of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Department 76 page submission provided a comprehensive overview of the history and current state of Australia’s biosecurity system.

He notes that since the detection of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia, a number of enhanced actions have been put in place at the border, in addition to financial and technical support to help Indonesia respond to both the foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease (LSD).

“Preparedness activities have also been stepped up in Australia – through the establishment of a Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness Task Force which has conducted exercises with states and territories, the appointment of a national disease coordinator animal disease preparedness, carrying out trade impact analyzes for foot-and-mouth disease and LSD, and finalizing, in consultation with industry, a draft national action plan on DSL.

The CSIRO The submission outlines the role it plays in biosecurity preparedness and includes a call for permission to bring live foot and mouth disease into the Australian Center for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) in Geelong.

The ACDP was built with epidemics such as foot-and-mouth disease in mind. Should an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease occur in Australia, ACDP has contingency plans in place to respond to it, as well as extensive experience responding to other outbreaks and pathogens to draw upon.

“CSIRO says that if access to foot-and-mouth disease virus were made available to the Australian Center for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) facility in Geelong, it would significantly improve Australia’s ability to prepare and to respond to the threats of an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease.

“Access to live virus would improve national and regional surveillance, as well as the ability to develop new diagnostic tools and future next-generation vaccines, including an mRNA vaccine against foot-and-mouth disease.

“Currently, there are no laboratories in Australia licensed to attempt to isolate foot-and-mouth disease or work on the live virus.

“Any work done by CSIRO researchers on the live virus is completed when they visit collaborators overseas.

“CSIRO, through ACDP – a high-containment facility designed to enable scientific research into the world’s most dangerous infectious agents – has all of the biosafety processes and technical capacity in place to work on the live virus while ensuring containment within the facility.

“Specifically, ACDP can perform vaccine typing, improve diagnostics and develop improved vaccines. He can also receive samples from the region, in order to better inform about the risks and the preparation. »