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National Sheep Health Monitoring Project

Sheep producers watching inspectors being trained. Source: Animal Health Australia.
Sheep producers watching inspectors being trained. Source: Animal Health Australia.

By Lorna Citer, Manager Endemic Diseases, Animal Health Australia

February 2016

 

The National Sheep Health Monitoring Project (NSHMP), monitors adult sheep in abattoirs for a number of important animal health conditions.

In the 2014–15 financial year, 2,985,323 sheep, including lambs (697,108), were monitored across 18 domestic and export abattoirs; some of these abattoirs were monitored on a part-time basis.

The NSHMP currently reports significant endemic diseases that can be identified by inspecting viscera or at the adjoining carcase-inspection stage. Lines of adult sheep are monitored by qualified meat inspectors and company-based personnel. Attention focuses on diseases that are likely to cause significant production loss, animal welfare issues, or market access concerns based on food safety or product aesthetics. Several of the conditions reported are of parasitic origin, and currently the NSHMP reports on the occurrence of liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica), grass seed contamination, pleurisy, melanosis, caseous lymphadenitis, sheep measles (Taenia ovis), hydatid (Echinococcus granulosus), bladder worm (Cysticercus tenuicollis) and Sarcocystis spp. In some regions additional information is collected on lung worm infection and knotty gut.

Data collected as part of the NSHMP are stored in the Central Animal Health Database, which is maintained by AHA. Business rules determine the level of access to the data for an individual or organisation. State Sheep Health Coordinators have access to their state’s dataset and return this information to producers in the form of individual animal health status reports on the lines inspected. A line of sheep is a group of animals purchased from a single location, although the group may contain animals from multiple vendors, as may occur at a saleyard. Processors are provided with a daily report for their own plants.

Monitoring of livestock in abattoirs also enables public health risk management for diseases such as hydatid disease. It also provides the opportunity to collect surveillance data that can be used to inform domestic animal health management decisions, and to confirm Australia’s freedom from specified diseases.

The NSHMP plays an important role by providing information to individual producers whose sheep are inspected, as it can assist them to improve their flocks’ productiveness and fine-tune property animal health programs. For processors, there is the opportunity to reduce product noncompliance, lifting productivity and reducing costs.

The animal health conditions identified through monitoring occur throughout Australia, but vary in prevalence between regions. Information analysed to date shows that the proportion of affected lines for some conditions is high, but that the average number of sheep affected within a line is very low.

The NSHMP has generated a comprehensive dataset that provides a good indication of the animal health status of the Australian flock. This information can be used by governments, industry groups and processors as solid evidence in support of market access and to demonstrate the quality of Australian product.

The Sheepmeat Council of Australia and WoolProducers Australia support the NSHMP because of the productivity and welfare impacts of uncontrolled disease. Both recognise the importance of individual producers having access to information about the sheep they have sold, so that producers can make sound and informed animal health management decisions.