Foot-and-mouth disease

Foot-and-mouth disease in a dairy cow in Africa, February 2012.

New Zealand has never had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which is highly infectious. It can spread on the wind and through contaminated clothing and vehicles as well as livestock. FMD affects all cloven-hooved (the hoof is divided in two) animals, including cows, pigs, sheep, goats and deer. Although it is seldom fatal (except in very young animals), FMD causes painful lesions and blisters and has a severe impact on productivity. An outbreak in New Zealand would have a significant impact on our export trade in animal products such as meat and milk, as all susceptible animals (whether infected or not) on infected farms would be culled.

New Zealand has had a number of scares over the years. In 1962 an outbreak in the Netherlands prompted New Zealand officials to step up border inspections, a step which was repeated five years later when FMD broke out in Britain. In 1981, pigs in Temuka were found to have blistered snouts. The property was quarantined, and all its pigs and sheep slaughtered and buried, but subsequent investigations revealed that the blisters were caused by the crop they had been eating. A threatened release of FMD on Waiheke Island in 2005 resulted in a major national response until it was confirmed as a hoax a week later.

A large FMD outbreak could cost the country up to $20 billion, have a greater impact on the economy than the global financial crisis, weaken the dollar, and significantly increase unemployment in the primary sector and processing industries. This is why New Zealand has some of the world's toughest border biosecurity measures.

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