In November 2019, with support from Gardiner Dairy Foundation, Amabel Grinter travelled to Nepal for an Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) training program with the European Commission for the control of Foot and Mouth Disease (a division of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations).

She joined 12 other Australians and 5 Nepalis to learn about the spread and control of pandemic diseases.

As the world becomes increasingly globalised, biosecurity is a major concern for the Australian Agricultural sector.

In Nepal, the training consisted of time learning in the classroom followed by practical application of the skills learned. Topics included diagnosis, 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 less fortunately for the trainees, there were no confirmed cases of FMD in the country at the time. They visited farms which had had confirmed cases in the previous 12 months.

During discussions with these farmers, they gained an understanding of the devastating effect FMD can have on households, both financially and psychologically. 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.

There are significant implications for an extreme disease outbreak back home in Australia, both for individual farms and the industry. Breaches of biosecurity are a serious threat to dairy 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, both through spread on tyres, and because 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 80:20 share agreement in the case of a FMD outbreak. It is estimated 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 is 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 over 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 among their veterinary practitioners. Often technicians will not vaccinate the animals with the correct vaccine or will even use water; and they will charge farmers 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,” Amabel said. “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.”