NSW fast-tracks efforts to develop world’s first synthetic foot-and-mouth disease vaccine


It is hoped a world-first synthetic vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and lumpy skin disease could be developed in NSW by August next year, fast-tracked by a $6 million government investment.

The funding announcement was made at NSW’s first biosecurity conference in Dubbo, attended by a range of industry experts coming together to discuss exotic diseases currently threatening Australian agriculture.

There have been unprecedented risks this year for the industry as local producers also faced varroa mite, Japanese encephalitis and a range of threats to vegetation.

Current FMD vaccines cannot be used locally as they contain the live virus, meaning any vaccinated animal would need to be euthanased for Australia to retain its FMD-free status.

Speakers Dugald Saunders, Cameron Whiteside, Paul Toole, Brett Greentree and Scott Barrett at the conference.(ABC Western Plains: Hannah Jose)

“We want to be the first state to develop an mRNA vaccine to deal with foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease,” Deputy Premier Paul Toole said.

“I’ve thrown the challenge out that I want to see the vaccine developed by August 1 next year.

“If foot-and-mouth disease was to get into the country it would have an $80 billion impact on the industry … this would affect every Australian.

“We need to make sure we’re ahead of the game and dealing with these issues before they get into the country.”

Preparing the nation

An extra $65 million in state government funding has been announced over the next two years to improve the country’s preparedness, as well as strengthen Australia’s biosecurity protection measures.

Some $60 million has been committed for “meaningful, on-the-ground training” with at least 2,000 people prepared to deliver vaccines and work with stock groups “so there’s an effective response if or when anything occurs”.

The government promised these experts would be equipped with the knowledge to assess animals, administer vaccines, maintain protocols at the stockyards and saleyards, and share information to graziers about euthanasing animals when required.

Community members and experts sitting in conference room for  biosecurity meeting
The inaugural biosecurity conference at Dubbo Western Plains Zoo.(ABC Western Plains: Hannah Jose)

Funding has also been committed to improve disease surveillance and closely monitor the movements of livestock in rural areas through new “intelligent track and trace technology”.

“We’re looking at setting up and interim task force on sheep and goat electronic identification because traceability is key in all of this,” NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said.

“For the first time ever there is national agreement on sheep and goat electronic ID.”

A man holds a bee with a tiny brown varroa mite attached to it.
A varroa mite on a live worker bee in the red zone, where millions of bees have been eradicated.(Supplied: Steve Fuller)

A further $17.8 million has been committed to controlling potential infected species by increased culling of feral pigs and deer.

Industry comes together

The conference was held at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo to discuss biosecurity measures, with Mr Saunders promising the perspectives shared by industry leaders would be used to form future policy.

Around 120 experts from across the country were in attendance, joined virtually by experts in other parts of the world including the United Kingdom’s chief veterinarian.

“When you talk about solutions, you do need anyone on board, everyone from the supply chain,” Mr Saunders said.

“Today is the starting point of all industry being together.”

The National Lumpy Skin Disease Preparedness Coordinator for the federal Agriculture Department, Chris Parker, gave a presentation about, among other dangers, the risk posed by changing climactic conditions and weather patterns in spreading Lumpy Skin Disease to Australia.

“Lumpy skin disease is not close enough yet for its vector, biting mites, to blow into Australia, but if it did spread east and south of Indonesia, that would be something to worry about,” Dr Parker said.

“The concern is a big cyclone or a big weather event could blow those biting insects into the northern part of Australia.”

A person in black leather shoes walks over a wet black mat.
Travellers returning from Indonesia are subject to more stringent biosecurity measures.(Supplied: Perth Airport)

Angus Australia chief executive Scott Wright said there was nervousness right through the Angus beef supply chain, but the conference gave him some confidence.

“When the Indonesian issue was at the forefront of news, it was front-of-mind of the industry,” said.

“It’s still front-of-mind, but the conference today, with extra funding and the mRNA vaccines going forward, it gives us a degree of assurance that it’ll be well-handled from a prevention point of view and also getting our market access back should an outbreak occur.”

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