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For Australia’s biosecurity, absolutely no RAM for the pet lamb

by Rachel Gordon, Biosecurity & Extension Manager, NSW., 26 July 2017

LBN’s NSW biosecurity and extension manager Rachel Gordon.

NAMES have been changed to protect the guilty, but I recently had a text message exchange, beginning with an inquiry about a pet sheep and her burning desire to dine with the dog.

“Lamb and dry dog food. Thoughts? Rosemary keeps trying to take the dog’s dinner!,” the pet owner texted.

“Oh my goodness, no!” I replied.

As the message had come through on my laptop, the poor person was then inundated with information from me about Australia’s ruminant feed ban, until the final message read:

“OK, I get it! Will make sure she doesn’t go near the dog’s food.

“Also, being a pet, I don’t plan to eat her!”

So, what’s the reasoning behind the Ruminant Feed Ban, and what does it mean for you? It relates to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). This includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as ‘mad cow disease’.

BSE came to the forefront in the mid-1980s when it was first diagnosed in United Kingdom. Cows exhibited symptoms such as gait abnormalities, behavioural changes (including aggression, nervousness, and frenzy), and hyper responsiveness to stimuli. The disease is progressive, and fatal.

BSE is caused by prions, notoriously tough, infectious proteins. They are resistant to most disinfectants, heat, ultraviolet radiation, and many other forms of disinfection.

From a food safety perspective, there are rare instances where people can develop variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a human form of a TSE. These cases have been linked to exposure to BSE-affected beef. The condition is fatal. It is important to note that vCJD is different from sporadic CJD. Sporadic CJD is just that, sporadic, and its cause is unknown. Most cases of sporadic CJD are diagnosed in patients with an average age of 65.

The total number of human cases of vCJD diagnosed worldwide is less than 230. The peak of the number of cases diagnosed was in 2000, when 28 cases were diagnosed in the United Kingdom.

In 1996, a voluntary ban on feeding ruminant material to ruminants was adopted in Australia. This was designed to minimise the risk of a BSE agent being recycled as ruminant feed, should it be introduced into Australia. Over time, laws have progressed to a uniform legislation in all states and territories that prohibit the feeding of restricted animal material (RAM) to ruminants. Prior to 1996, a separate ban on the importation of meat and bone meal (MBM) from all countries other than New Zealand has been in force since 1966. This was initially instigated to reduce the risk of foot and mouth disease entering Australia.

Restricted Animal Material ban can help us avoid TES and BSE

RAM is defined as any material taken from a vertebrate animal, other than tallow, gelatin, milk products, or oils. It does include rendered products such as:

  • blood meal
  • meat meal
  • meat and bone meal
  • fish meal
  • poultry meal and feather meal, and
  • compounded feeds made from these products.

The need for completely avoiding any of these products is necessary due to prions’ ability to survive the cooking and rendering process.

Other TSEs of interest to Australia’s livestock industries are scrapie (affecting sheep and goats), chronic wasting disease (CWD, which affects deer), and feline spongiform encephalopathy (FSE).

Scrapie was diagnosed in imported sheep on a single property in 1952 and eradicated. Two cases of FSE have been diagnosed over time in imported zoo animals (a cheetah, in 1992, and an Asiatic golden cat, in 2002).

It is important to note that BSE has never been recorded in Australia. By adhering to the ruminant feed ban, we can ensure it stays that way.

Four top tips for animal feed (as part of your LPA biosecurity plan):

  1. Read the label – ensure the feed does not contain RAM.
  2. Thoroughly clean your machinery of all RAM to prevent cross contamination of ruminant feeds.
  3. Ensure your stock do not have access to feed containing RAM.
  4. Keep records of your purchases and Commodity Vendor Declarations for each purchase.

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