18 August 1995

Australian foot rot scheme points route to stop scab

The successful New South Wales foot rot strategic plan could be adapted for scab control to good effect by UKflockmasters.

Rebecca Austin reports

IF farmers want to stamp out sheep scab, some must first admit they have disease in their flocks.

This advice from Australias John Plant is echoed by many involved in the industry. These include National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley, Dr Dermot OBrien, senior veterinary research officer for the Department of Agriculture, Abbotstown, Dublin, and liberal MP Paul Tyler, who is also chairman of the All Party Committee for organophosphorus (OP) dips.

Mr Plant, flock health programme leader at the Elizabeth MacArthur Agricultural Institute in New South Wales (NSW), suggests the UK implements a scheme to control scab that is similar to the one which has tackled foot rot successfully in NSW.

"Farmers are responsible for eradicating the disease, although there needs to be input from your own government," he says. "Foot rot was costing New South Wales sheep industry £2.6m to £3.5m a year through lost production, increased flystrike, loss in reproductive performance and cost of control. When we set up the scheme in 1988, 7.3% of the states flock was infected with foot rot. That figure dropped to 5.5% last year and the target is to eradicate foot rot by the year 2000."

The scheme revolves around voluntary farmer foot rot eradication groups. These are divided geographically and guided by advisory and regulatory programmes (see panels). Although NSWs Agricultural department provides £109,100 a year in salaries and research funding, farmers contribute £0.76m as levies to help run the scheme.

"In 1983 a foot rot advisory programme commenced," says Mr Plant. "This involved vets, producer organisations, chemical companies, vaccine manufacturers and advisory staff. Industry meetings were held in many locations creating awareness of new developments in foot rot treatment and vaccination programmes.

"From this grew the voluntary farmer foot rot eradication groups. Advisory officers now co-ordinate the groups and the state is divided into three areas according to foot rot status. These are:

&#8226 Residual: Flock prevalence greater than 10%.

&#8226 Control: Flock prevalence reduced to between 2% and 10%.

&#8226 Protected: Flock prevalence less than 1%.

Under the advisory programme, vendors are encouraged to present sheep with a declaration which states the farm of origin has been free of foot rot for at least 12 months.

"The vendor declaration is only valid for up to 14 days after purchase and conditions also apply to the purchaser," says Mr Plant. "It is very much an industry-driven initiative and it is encouraging that it has shown increasing industry acceptance."

An accreditation scheme allows flocks to provide guarantee of foot rot freedom for a period of 12 months through inspections by their vet. Contractors are required to attend workshops and are examined at work before they are approved under the scheme. Hauliers are provided with guidelines for the presentation of trucks.

"Foot rot, lice or scab cannot be eradicated by regulation alone, but careful and commonsense use of regulatory powers will allow the industry to eradicate them," says Mr Plant.

"Once the disease has been eliminated from an area those farmers are able to achieve a premium for their stock at sales. I am quite convinced that peer pressure is important, but without ruling and governments the industry will not get anywhere."

For example if a producer has not attempted to eliminate foot rot in an area where others are at risk we still have the power to quarantine that farm and after three years we can go to the stage of compulsory destocking which happens once every four or five years."

Once disease has been eliminated farmers can achieve a premium, says John Plant.