Livestock breeders urged to secure genetic material

Former Victorian Chief Veterinarian Dr Charles Milne

A CALL to Australian livestock keepers to protect valuable genetics from the impact of an incursion of exotic diseases has been backed by former Victorian Chief Veterinarian Dr Charles Milne.

With the foot-and-mouth outbreak across Indonesia increasing the risk of an Australian incursion, Chris Howie, Stockco’s business development manager and former stockkeeper, strongly suggested that stud farms collect eggs, embryos and sperm for storage.

In his latest Livestock Market wrap on Sheep Central, Mr Howie suggested that seeing their life’s work disappear due to an outbreak would be too much for many ranchers to comprehend.

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Chris Howe.

Based on UK FMD protocols and his personal FMD training in Nepal, Mr Howie said it is important to know if a business is caught in a disease containment circle.

“There is no room for negotiation on breeding value as the industry will follow culling protocols to eliminate the risk of outbreaks,” he said.

Dr Milne said Australian farmers who own genetically valuable livestock should seriously consider protecting their assets by using stored semen and embryos.

Dr Milne was Victoria’s CVO for five years until 2019. He was Scotland’s CVO from 2003 to 2009 and was involved in the response to the 2001 and 2007 foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in the UK.

He said that following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK in 2001, the issue of breed protection was discussed in a number of journals and publications.

“This led to the 2002 UK National Report on Farm Animal Genetic Resources which recommended that a National Action Plan for Farm Animal Genetic Resources should be developed and a National Farm Animal Genetic Resources Steering Committee genetics of farm animals be named.

“This led to the publication in 2006 of the UK National Action Plan on Farm Animal Genetic Resources,” he said.

“He recommended that a web-based National Breed Inventory be developed and regarding foot and mouth disease that a robust definition of a core unit essential to the survival of the breed, with or without cryopreserved genetic material, be developed. .

“All of this culminated in a number of initiatives, including the UK National Livestock Gene Bank run by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust,” he said.

“Additionally, high value genetic herds and herds have been split and housed in different premises with completely separate management.

“Some farmers have also developed sperm and embryo banks.”

Dr Milne said he had not seen an assessment of the genetic costs of FMD outbreaks in the UK, although speaking to individual breeders the impact was devastating both financially and emotionally.

“Again, I don’t have any specific information on the speed of recovery, but again several growers have told me that they wish they had had the foresight to store genetic material.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Environment said a full range of plans were in place to deal with an emergency outbreak.

“These plans are reviewed and updated regularly as part of continuous improvement processes.

“The Australian Veterinary Plan or AUSVETPLAN is the central plan to control and eradicate an outbreak,” he said.

“The AUSVETPLAN series of documents describe how we would respond to a disease (one for each disease), and these manuals are nationally agreed.

“There is also a national relief and recovery coordination framework,” the spokesperson said.

“This framework sets out roles and responsibilities for dealing with the economic and social impact of an outbreak and getting communities back to normal after an outbreak.”

The spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether AUSVETPLAN’s slaughter protocols during an incursion of foot-and-mouth disease would take into account the genetic value of livestock on farms.

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