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British FMD Clearance no time for complacency

British clearance no time for complacency

The formal declaration of Britain as foot and mouth disease free did not mean that New Zealanders should become complacent about the level of risk of an outbreak here, Biosecurity Minister Jim Sutton said today.

The OIE, the international animal health organisation, yesterday declared Britain free of foot-and-mouth disease.

Britain declared itself free of foot-and-mouth last week, finally beating the epidemic that led to the slaughter of more than four million animals, forced farmers out of business, damaged tourism, and cost the government billions of pounds.

Mr Sutton said that border control and biosecurity measures to stop illicit food imports by air passengers would continue, as there was still a significant risk to New Zealand.

"Foot and mouth disease is endemic in Asia and South America where a large proportion of visitors and residents returning to New Zealand come from. In fact, there were 490 outbreaks of foot and mouth in South-East Asia alone in 2000. In many Asian countries the disease is there all the time.

"When the disease was confirmed in Britain a year ago, I made the point to farmers and others that the foot and mouth risk to New Zealand was not new. It is serious. And, most importantly, it will not go away when the current European outbreak goes away. It will diminish slightly. And that is all.

"It would be quite wrong for New Zealanders to think that when the British outbreak was over the risk is gone. It will not be. No one should relax just because the images disappear from television and newspapers."

Mr Sutton said any outbreak of foot and mouth disease in New Zealand would hit harder here than it did in Britain because of our economy's dependence on primary production exports. These exports would cease if the disease made it here.

People returning to New Zealand had to fill in declaration cards accurately and not bring in risk material, he said.

"The British experience was a wake-up call to a major threat to New Zealand's livelihood from foot and mouth disease. The official declaration that the disease is eradicated there in no way lessens the responsibility of all New Zealanders to get themselves informed about the rules on quarantine goods and make sure that they are followed."

Mr Sutton said New Zealand had learnt a lot from the British outbreak. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials, academics, and veterinarians had helped the British efforts against foot and mouth disease and their experiences had been fed into the contingency planning process here.

"It has been a nightmare experience for the British, and one that we are determined not to experience here."

Mr Sutton said one example learnt from Britain was the estimate that the effects of the disease could have been halved if country-wide movement controls had been imposed days earlier than they were.


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