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Victoria lifts quarantine after anthrax outbreak around Swan Hill

by Terry Sim, 01 May 2017

VICTORIA today lifted quarantine restrictions on all properties involved in an anthrax outbreak near Swan Hill in north west Victoria.

More than 7000 sheep, cattle and pigs were vaccinated by Agriculture Victoria staff to manage the anthrax outbreak that began last month.

A total of 25 sheep were confirmed as dying from anthrax across five adjacent properties.

The recent anthrax outbreak has highlighted issues with the mob-based visual tag system and the value of electronic identification in sheep disease tracing, farmers were told at an on-farm workshop last week.

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At the workshop near Byaduk in south west Victoria, Agriculture Victoria’s senior veterinary officer – sheep, Dr Robert Suter said the key reason for mandating electronic identification tagging of sheep and goats in the state was livestock traceability.

He said the current visual tag mob-based system relied on producers correctly listing Producer Identification Codes on National Vendor Declarations in a legible form, but in the PIC-NVD studies done “the numbers just don’t match up.” Only 65 percent of sheep in Victoria were traceable, he said.

“It’s a system that doesn’t work and the big issue is saleyards, particularly when sheep are mixed.”

On the day that anthrax was detected on a Swan Hill district property, Dr Robert Suter said a sheep sale was being held near the north-west Victorian city.

“Sheep from one of the infected properties involved were sold to three abattoirs, including one outside of Victoria.

“Although the risk to human health is low, on a precautionary basis the carcases had to be identified and taken out of the food chain.”

Agriculture Victoria’s senior National Livestock Identification System officer Marnie Dortmans said tracing the movement of sheep from the anthrax-affected property through the saleyard involved was resource intensive due to the inherent errors with the current mob-based movement system.

She said in an anthrax outbreak in cattle a few years ago Agriculture Victoria was able to trace movements of cattle onto and off the infected premise efficiently due to the electronic tags in cattle and the NLIS database.

“The cattle (EID) system is much easier for us to follow (livestock) and put statuses on and ensure that nothing was moved or even into the food chain for a period of 42 days.

“We actually had to put an electronic ear tag in the sheep that were vaccinated (against anthrax) so that we could put a status against their tags.”

Dr Suter said livestock on the anthrax affected properties were vaccinated with a live vaccine as a control measure to try to stop more cases occurring and meat from these animals also needed to be kept out of the food chain.

“That’s why we use the status approach using electronic ear tags so abattoirs can get a warning signal to be able to manage this process.

“Certainly there were tracing issues involved in finding a number of sheep that were traced to a number of abattoirs that were part of the consignment that the farmer had sent in that went out as a boxed lot from the saleyard,” Dr Suter said.

“Food residues and disease are the main reasons that effective traceability is required.”

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