Animal Health Australia (AHA) manages the TSE Freedom Assurance Project (TSEFAP), which delivers nationally integrated TSE risk minimisation measures to keep Australian animals and their products free from TSEs.
What is a TSE?
Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) in animals are a class of rare brain diseases that are associated with the accumulation of abnormal prion protein in the brain and therefore affect the central nervous system. These diseases are very rare, fatal and are characterized by spongy degeneration of the brain. There are no validated live animal tests, no treatments and no vaccines for these diseases.
There are a number of TSEs which affect people and animals. Of most interest to Australia’s livestock industries are:
- Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) which affects cattle and is commonly referred to as ‘mad cow disease’
- Scrapie is a TSE that affects sheep and goats
- Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a TSE that affects cervids such as mule deer, white tail deer and Rocky Mountain elk
- Feline spongiform encephalopathy (FSE) found in domestic cats and captive exotic cats
- Transmissible mink encephalopathy (TME) is a very rare disease of farmed mink.
- Exotic ungulate encephalopathy found in captive antelope, Ankole cattle and bison.
- Creutzfeld – Jakob disease (CJD) is a rare and fatal form of TSE that affects humans worldwide. A newly recognized form of CJD, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), has been diagnosed in a small number of people since 1996 and is thought to be linked to the consumption of certain parts of the carcase of BSE-infected cattle in countries affected by the disease.
BSE and chronic wasting disease have never been recorded in Australia. Classical scrapie has occurred once, in imported sheep on a single property in 1952 and was promptly eradicated. Two cases of feline spongiform encephalopathy have been diagnosed in imported animals in Australian zoos in 1992 (cheetah) and 2002 (Asiatic golden cat), where exposure before importation to feeds derived from BSE affected cattle are thought to have caused the disease. In both instances, effective response measures were taken. There have been no reported cases of vCJD in people in Australia, although it is recognised that one or more cases could occur due to overseas exposure.
Australia’s livestock continue to remain free from TSEs. This has been confirmed by national and international risk assessments, for example those conducted by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand, European Food Safety Authority, and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.
Australia’s status as free from BSE can only be assured if we continue to apply vigorous preventive measures complemented by an ongoing surveillance program meeting international standards. These processes need to be well coordinated, nationally uniform, transparent and auditable in order to maintain our trade access.
Purpose and objectives of the TSEFAP
The purpose of the TSEFAP is to enhance market confidence that Australian animals and animal products are free from TSEs through the structured and nationally integrated management of animal-related TSE activities.
We are achieving this by meeting the following objectives:
- Maintain Australia’s freedom from BSE and scrapie, and the highest level international rating.
- Complete sufficient surveillance to meet international requirements and assure trading partners, markets and consumers that Australian animals and animal products are free of TSEs and to ensure the early detection of a TSE should it occur.
- Demonstrate that no restricted animal material is fed to ruminants.
- Manage the risks posed by animals imported from countries that have had cases of TSE.
- Provide a forum to involve all stakeholders in addressing animal-related TSE issues.
Our activities are categorised into four operational project areas and two support project areas.
- Surveillance—the National TSE Surveillance Project (NTSESP) and any other required surveillance
- Ruminant feeding restrictions
- Imported animal surveillance (including zoo animals) and ‘buy-back’ schemes for imported cattle
- Research and development (R&D)
- Management and coordination
Each activity in the project is addressed as a separate sub-project, with clearly defined resource requirements. Further info on each activity can be found below. An additional activity can be included in the TSEFAP after stakeholders agree how to adequately resource it.
AHA manages the program and relevant stakeholders are invited to participate via the National Advisory Committee.
Animal Health Australia (AHA) manages the National TSE Surveillance Project (NTSESP) to ensure that Australia remains free from transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) affecting animals and humans.
Australia is free of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and scrapie. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has designated Australia as a ‘BSE negligible risk’ status (the lowest risk).
National TSE surveillance project
The NTSESP supports Australian trade by:
- maintaining a surveillance system for TSEs that is consistent with the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code (see chapter 11.6—BSE and chapter 14.9—scrapie)
- assuring all countries that import our cattle and sheep commodities that Australia remains free of these diseases.
AHA manages the NTSESP, and the project is planned and implemented through the National Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives from relevant livestock industries, the Australian Government, and state and territory animal health agencies.
Introduced in 1998, the NTSESP is a targeted component of Australia’s overall disease surveillance effort, which provides cost-effective information for assessing and managing risks associated with trade in animals and products, animal production efficiency and public health.
To maintain a continuous watch over the livestock disease profile so that unexpected changes can be identified, general surveillance activities include:
- pre- and post-slaughter inspection at meatworks
- inspection of animals at sale yards and other points of aggregation
- farm visits by private and government veterinarians
- results from laboratory testing.
The NTSESP is complemented by targeted surveillance for neurological disease in all animal species with intensive follow-up investigations of cases involving unexplained neurological signs.
Intensive follow-up has uncovered a number of rare neurological conditions where a TSE has been ruled out. These investigations have shown that other conditions can result in signs that mimic those of TSEs, including:
- some hereditary diseases
- plant poisonings
- infectious diseases
- musculoskeletal conditions.
These animal health conditions are of particular relevance to Australia because of their rarity, geographical remoteness or the unusual circumstances of their occurrence. Resolving the causes of these conditions gives additional confidence that Australia’s comprehensive approach to surveillance is detecting rare neurological diseases and ruling out TSEs.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy
Australia commenced active surveillance for BSE in 1990, which was modified in 1998 with the introduction of the NTSESP.
The NTSESP sampling design for BSE is based on the recommendations in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code. Australia is a country assessed by the OIE as BSE Negligible Risk and therefore should implement OIE Type B surveillance.
The application of OIE Type B surveillance is designed to allow the detection of at least one BSE case per 50,000 in the adult cattle population at a confidence level of 95%. Australia’s target is to achieve a minimum of 150,000 surveillance points during a 7-year moving window.
Australia also meets the OIE recommendations that:
- clinically consistent cattle are investigated regardless of the number of points accumulated
- cattle from the fallen and casualty slaughter subpopulations are also tested.
Our program involves the detailed examination of clinically consistent cattle collected at points throughout the production chain, as well as examining 300 brains from fallen or casualty stock each year to satisfy the OIE Code recommendations and to aid in maintaining accreditation for the Bio-Rad TSE rapid test.
Use of histopathology as the screening test for clinically consistent cattle is followed up with confirmatory testing at CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) using a range of methods where required.
Samples (entire brain and other parts) are submitted to laboratories around Australia for TSE testing, and differential diagnosis can be explored.
The NTSESP scrapie sampling design is consistent with OIE’s Terrestrial Animal Health Code recommendations with a formal program of targeted surveillance, which includes testing of sheep and goats displaying clinical signs compatible with scrapie and those over 18 months of age slaughtered, culled or found dead on farm. The program was originally based on detecting scrapie with a confidence level of 99% if it comprised 1% of sheep neurological cases and samples are collected from all states. Around 400 – 500 samples are tested annually.
Samples (entire brain and other tissues) are submitted to laboratories around Australia for TSE testing, and differential diagnosis can be explored. Use of histopathology as the screening test is followed up with confirmatory testing at AAHL using a range of methods where required.
Ruminant feeding restrictions
Australia has an inclusive ban on the feeding to all ruminants of all meals, including meat and bone meal (MBM), derived from all vertebrates, including fish and birds.
Animal Health Australia (AHA) coordinates the Ruminant Feed Ban (RFB) as part of Australia’s commitment to retain its TSE free status.
Imported animal surveillance
Animals from countries with reported BSE cases
Australia has been recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and its trading partners as being free from transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and scrapie.
After extensive consultation, the Australian governments, livestock industries and scientific community agreed that cattle imported from countries with recorded cases of BSE might have been exposed to the BSE agent before arriving in Australia. As a precautionary measure, it was agreed that these animals should not enter the human or animal food chains in Australia.
Banned livestock imports
Australian authorities have banned the importation of:
- live sheep and goats from all countries except New Zealand since 1952
- cattle from European countries since 1998
- cattle from Japan since 2001
- cattle from Canada since 2003
- cattle from USA since 2004.
Cattle already imported from countries that subsequently reported BSE cases have been traced, and are under permanent quarantine in accordance with the Biosecurity Act 2015. This section of the Act prohibits the unauthorised movement of cattle, or their sale for slaughter, and ensures that their carcases will be disposed of in an approved manner upon death or destruction.
All these cattle have been permanently identified in accordance with the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) and their details recorded in the NLIS database. These measures allow the normal commercial management of the animals, but prohibit their use for the production of human or animal food.
Earlier imports from higher risk countries
Some imported cattle were slaughtered before BSE was reported in their country of origin. But scientific risk assessments have shown a negligible likelihood that BSE became established in the Australian cattle herd as a result of the importation of cattle from Europe, Japan, Canada or the US.
Australia has an excellent capability to trace animals from markets back to the most recent property of residence. This system has proved invaluable in disease eradication programs and emergency disease situations.
Our traceability has been strengthened by:
- National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) to provide whole-of-life traceability
- National Vendor Declaration (NVD) system to record livestock movements.
Surveillance of zoo animals
Live zoo animals have been imported into Australia from several countries reporting BSE in cattle.
We identified the need to include zoo animals in our TSE surveillance after the diagnosis of feline spongiform encephalopathy (FSE) in an imported cheetah in Broome Zoo in 1992 and in an imported golden cat that died at Melbourne Zoo in 2002.
We aim to address the risks posed by animals imported from countries with reported BSE by ensuring the death of any designated zoo animal is investigated in a nationally consistent manner, as defined in the National TSE Surveillance Program.
The Protocol for Management of Designated Zoo Animals was developed and implemented. This protocol, which is reviewed annually, documents a national approach for the management of at-risk animals and the response to a positive TSE diagnosis in inventoried risk-animals within the Australian zoo population.
We apply this protocol to the following animals, which are referred to as ‘designated zoo animals’.
“A designated zoo animal is a mammal, meeting the following definitions, living within a registered zoo or wildlife park in Australia:
- All felidae, bovidae and primates having lived any part of their life in a country not listed as having a negligible or controlled BSE status by the OIE (see http://www.oie.int/?id=495) and having spent less than 15 years continuously in Australia following their most recent arrival
- All felidae, bovidae and primates having spent less than 15 years continuously in Australia following their most recent arrival and having lived in the following countries before 2001: Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the UK, or any other country listed as having the OIE controlled BSE status (see http://www.oie.int/?id=495).
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
All cervidae having spent any portion of their life in USA and Canada, or any other country in which CWD has been reported.
All members of the genera Ovis and Capra, imported from any country except New Zealand.”
Australia’s current zoo population does not include any animals that fall into the CWD and scrapie categories, listed above, so the protocol only deals with management of BSE-related issues.
With the exception of scrapie and CWD of deer, TSEs affecting zoo animals are not contagious. As long as affected animals are kept out of the human and animal food chain, there is negligible risk of spread to in-contact animals and cohorts, or contamination of the environment.
Specific management measures are not required for progeny or in-contact animals, or for animal enclosures.
Management of designated zoo animals involves minimal intervention, mainly focusing on diagnostic and disposal measures after death.
Industry tracing schemes
Australia’s Cattle Tracing Scheme was first implemented in 1996 by AHA and funded by the Australian grass-fed cattle industry as a voluntary scheme to address the risks of cattle imported from the UK and Switzerland. The scheme now includes cattle from Europe, Japan, Canada and the US, and would likely include any other country that detects a native-born case of BSE.
The scheme previously offered owners of these potentially risky animals the option to destroy their cattle and receive compensation or to continue to have cattle maintained under lifetime quarantine surveillance. Surveillance includes cattle being identified under the NLIS and an annual report of the status of the animals by the owner.
Research and development (R&D)
Animal Health Australia (AHA) manages any research and development undertaken as part of Australia’s efforts to retain its BSE negligible risk status.
There are currently no research and development projects occurring in the program.
Previous research addressed issues such as:
- laboratory capability for ‘rapid screening tests’ in Australian conditions
- development of a test to detect mammalian protein in animal feedstuffs
- investigation of alternate surveillance strategies.
In the context of the TSEFAP, R&D activities will only be undertaken if they are consistent with purpose and objectives of the TSEFAP research and development project area.
Purpose and objectives
The purpose of R&D in the TSEFAP is to undertake appropriate projects, as required, to support market confidence in Australia’s animals and animal products.
We will achieve this by meeting the following objectives:
- Identify TSE R&D priorities of national significance
- Gain stakeholder consensus on TSE-related R&D priorities
- Secure appropriate funding to deliver R&D priorities
- Efficiently implement R&D outcomes.
The National Technical Committee is responsible for oversight of R&D activities. Membership of this committee is dynamic, depending on the issue being addressed.
Once a priority has been identified, the National Technical Committee will prepare a draft plan for submission to the National Advisory Committee (NAC). If endorsed by the NAC, the plan will be circulated to the broader stakeholder group and funding sought or existing R&D providers leveraged to complete the work.
TSE surveillance training
Raising awareness about TSEs
Australian governments and peak industry bodies are jointly responsible for advising their staff and members about Australia’s TSE prevention measures:
- State and territory departments of primary industries are responsible for delivery of specific training to private veterinarians and their own staff, as well as local awareness programs.
- Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is responsible for awareness and training in export abattoirs, including formal short courses and self-paced learning through manuals and videos.
- Government officers, industry organisations and veterinary practitioners play an important role to raise local awareness among producers and other veterinarians of the need to report nervous diseases in cattle, goats and sheep.
AHA publishes supporting materials on TSEs to ensure a consistent national approach.
TSE training requirements
Training of practitioners and government officers should include:
- awareness of TSEs
- nature of each TSE disease
- selection of eligible animals
- specimen collection and laboratory submissions.
Appropriate training should ensure the occurrence of TSEs in Australian livestock can be ruled out and alternative diagnoses confirmed whenever possible.
Both BSE and scrapie are exotic diseases, so awareness of the methods of detection and actions to be taken in the event of an occurrence are addressed in:
Aids for TSE training
AHA has developed two main training aids for TSEs.
NTSESP training guide
Some people might find the images and footage of procedures in this guide distressing and discretion is advised.
The guide contains information for veterinarians and animal health officers who collect submissions for the National TSE Surveillance Program
The NTSESP Training Guide can be found online on AHA’s Learning System.
Learners already registered in the system can use their existing login details and find the course by clicking on ‘Browse learning.’
To register as a learner:
- Access the AHA Learning System.
- Click on the ‘Register’ link in the log-in panel and fill in your details ensuring that you use your own personal email address, then click the ‘Sign Up’ link.
- An email will be sent to you with a link to set your password. Click on the link in the email and type in your preferred password.
- You will be taken to the Learning homepage. Click on the ‘Browse Learning’ tile to search for and enrol in the NSTESP Training Guide.
TSE sample collection training video
Some people could be offended by scenes in this video.
This training video was developed to assist veterinarians and animal health specialists with the collection of brain tissue for testing of TSE.
Graphical representation is necessary to allow for the procedure to be accurately and safely performed by qualified veterinarians and animal health specialists.
Watch the TSE sample collection training video
TSE emergency preparedness
Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement
The Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement is a world-first agreement ratified by Australia’s governments and livestock industries to ensure a rapid and efficient response to exotic animal disease incursions in Australia’s valuable livestock sector.
The agreement includes mechanisms for formal government–industry consultation on resource allocation, funding, training and risk mitigation.
The Australian livestock industries and the government jurisdictions have taken a proactive approach to being prepared for such an event if a TSE (specifically BSE or classical scrapie) ever occurred in this country.
- The AUSVETPLAN Disease Strategy for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathies (BSE) provides a technical response plan that describes the proposed Australian approach to an incident of BSE in Australia
- The AUSVETPLAN Disease Strategy for Scrapie – provides a technical response plan that describes the proposed Australian approach to an incident of scrapie in Australia.
These documents provide guidance based on sound analysis, linking policy, strategies, implementation, coordination and emergency-management plans.
These and other plans are regularly reviewed in light of new scientific information.
Major stakeholders who are involved in developing and/or operating the project and its business plan are listed below.
- Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
- NSW Department of Primary Industries
- Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
- Western Australia Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development
- Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries
- South Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regions
- Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions
- Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment
- ACT Department of Territory and Municipal Services
- Cattle Council of Australia
- Australian Lot Feeders’ Association
- Sheep Producers Australia
- WoolProducers Australia
- Australian Dairy Farmers
- Australian Meat Industry Council
- Australian Meat Processor Corporation
- Australian Renderers Association
- Stock Feed Manufacturers’ Council of Australia
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand
- Goat Industry Council of Australia
|AHA TSEFAP Manager||Robert Barwell||P: (02) 6203 3947|
|Australian Animal Health Laboratory||John Bingham||P: (03) 5227 5000|
|Commonwealth DoA Coordinator||Christine Coulson||P: (02) 6272 4167|
|NSW State Coordinator||Geoff Campbell||M: 0438 703 996|
|NT State Coordinator||Cindy Dudgeon||P: (08) 8999 2123|
|QLD State Coordinator||Janine Barrett||P: (07) 3087 8017|
|SA State Coordinator||Diana Miller||P: (08) 8207 7837|
|TAS State Coordinator||Emma Watkins||P: (03) 6165 3264|
|Vic State Coordinator||Alison Lee||P: (03) 5561 9927 E: Alison.Lee@agriculture.vic.gov.au|
|WA State Coordinator||Amelia Cameron||P: +61 (0)8 9368 3324|