Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Emergency animal disease responses

What is an emergency animal disease?

An outbreak of a serious emergency animal disease (EAD) can be disastrous for producers, causing significant personal stress and anguish as well as financial hardship. The livestock industries can lose sales opportunities both domestically and internationally in the wake of a damaged reputation for our produce, and the broader Australian economy could lose billions in trade and employment.

An EAD is likely to have a significant effect on livestock, potentially resulting in livestock deaths, production loss, and in some cases, impacts on human health and the environment.

Diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and mad cow disease (also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE) are obvious examples of EADs. However, the definition also includes unusual, severe outbreaks of established diseases that may cause sudden trade disruptions, such as the 1997 anthrax outbreaks in Victoria. It also includes new diseases where it is not immediately apparent what the disease is, such as the occurrence of Hendra virus in Queensland in 1994.

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Under the Australian EAD Response Agreement (EADRA), listed EADs must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • known disease that does not occur in Australia, and for which it is considered to be in the national interest for the country to be free
  • a variation of an endemic (established) disease which – if it became widespread here – would have a national impact
  • a serious infectious disease of unknown or uncertain cause, which may be an entirely new disease
  • a known endemic disease, but is occurring in such a severe outbreak form, that an emergency response is required to ensure that there is neither a large scale epidemic of national significance or serious loss of market access

For further information visit:, AUSVETPLAN, EADRA.

What are the main emergency animal diseases that could affect my property?

There are a number of different types of diseases that are not present in Australian livestock. Some major diseases of concern include:

Alpacas – FMD, rabies, anthrax

Cattle – FMD, BSE, screw worm fly, rinderpest

Sheep/goats – FMD, sheep pox, scrapie, bluetongue

Pigs – FMD, classical swine fever, African swine fever, Aujeszky’s disease, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS)

Chickens – avian influenza, exotic Newcastle disease

Horses – Hendra virus, equine influenza, contagious equine metritis, glanders

There are many other diseases that would have a serious impact if an outbreak were to occur. For a full list of diseases in AUSVETPLAN (the Australian Veterinary emergency plan) see the AHA website

Good farm biosecurity should be used to protect your livestock from the risks of an EAD.

Who should I contact if I suspect an outbreak of a serious livestock disease?

Early intervention is vital in an EAD outbreak! If you suspect a pest or disease outbreak or have seen something unusual and you’re not sure whether it’s an exotic pest or disease, report it! Don’t worry how insignificant it may be. Small signs may be an early indication that something’s wrong.

Your suspicions of a serious livestock disease must be reported to your local government or private vet or a stock inspector, or you can call the free Emergency Disease Watch Hotline – 1800 675 888. The hotline operates to assist the early reporting of EADs. 

What happens in an emergency animal disease outbreak?

An outbreak of a serious EAD can be disastrous for producers, causing significant personal stress and anguish as well as financial hardship. The livestock industries can lose sales opportunities both domestically and internationally, in the wake of a damaged reputation for our produce, and the broader Australian economy could lose billions in trade and employment.

Generally, Australian policy is to eradicate any introduced exotic animal disease as quickly as possible. This could involve:

  • establishment of disease control zones, quarantine and movement controls
  • possible destruction and disposal of infected and exposed animals
  • decontamination of infected premises, vehicles, equipment and animal products
  • surveillance of susceptible animals
  • restriction of the activities of certain enterprises.

The disease may also be controlled through vaccination, campaigns to control disease carriers, animal treatment and wild animal control. Infected and disease-free zones are established to contain the disease and retain business continuity in disease-free areas.

Controlling and eradicating EADs is done using the guidelines in AUSVETPLAN, a coordinated national response plan. As each state and territory is responsible for controlling and eradicating animal disease locally, each has its own emergency disease control legislation which supports the national guidelines.

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What happens to me in an emergency animal disease outbreak?

The more serious the outbreak, the more impact it could have on you and your family. An outbreak of a disease such as FMD, where heavy restrictions are placed on moving stock, can have a serious effect on families. On some properties, all movement – people as well as animals – may be temporarily restricted, creating problems for school and work. Longer term restrictions can significantly affect businesses due to reduced trading opportunities.

Prevention is definitely better than cure. Good farm biosecurity practices will lower the risks of disease entering your property.

If my property is affected, will my livestock be destroyed?

Whether livestock need to be destroyed – or for that matter, livestock products or other materials – depends on the disease and its nature.

The worst case scenario – destroying animals and anything they have been in contact with and which can’t be decontaminated or disinfected – occurs with FMD, because the virus is highly contagious and survives away from the animal. However, many other diseases, such as equine influenza, can be controlled without destroying infected animals.

Your local authority working under the state or territory emergency response plan would make the decision about your stock in the event of an infection on your property. Compensation is available for stock lost due to an EAD or destroyed by the authority to prevent disease spread.

For details of reportable diseases, visit the Australian Government Department of Agriculture’s page National List of Notifiable Animal Diseases.

Can I leave my property during a disease outbreak?

Without realising, people can spread disease on their clothing, footwear and vehicles or even on their skin or nasal passages! Many diseases can survive long periods outside their obvious host and can hitch a ride to another location.

For this reason, if you suspect a serious disease in your stock, don’t leave your property or allow anyone else to do so until an inspector has discussed with you what you must do to prevent disease spread. Once a process is in place, which may include managing movement and disinfecting clothing and equipment, you will generally be allowed to leave.

Can I move stock during a disease outbreak?

If you are aware of an outbreak of an EAD you must not move any stock around your property or to other places until you get the all clear. This is because you may cause the disease to spread, as many diseases are readily spread from animal to animal.

In the case of FMD, a national livestock standstill, banning all movement of susceptible animals, may be immediately declared for a few days to allow the authorities to assess where the disease already is, without the situation getting worse through continuing movements. It is a criminal offence to move stock during a stock standstill.

Can I sell products such as milk, eggs, meat?

This depends on the disease, but you won’t be able to sell your products until there’s no doubt they have not been in contact or contaminated with the disease organism. As this may be very difficult to establish, it might be necessary to suspend all sales.

What can I do to help during an outbreak?

In the event of an outbreak:

  • stay informed
    • visit for information about outbreaks in Australia
    • your state or territory department of agriculture or primary industries website will have specific information for your local area
  • remember to cooperate with local authorities – they are there to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible, as well as help you.

How long will it be before I can resume my normal farming activities, and what do I need to do?

The period between eradicating a disease and resuming normal farming is one of the most difficult things to predict, as it depends on the spread of the individual outbreak and the nature of the organism responsible.

Once a disease has been officially eradicated, there will be a period of time before normal activity can recommence. Given the impact on producers’ income, every effort will be made to limit this period, and of course, livestock producers are part of the decision making process and will be pressing for an early return to normal activities!

It is very important to have good farm biosecurity practices in place all the time, but particularly during and after an EAD outbreak.

Preventing a disease outbreak

That’s exactly what farm biosecurity is all about. Simple biosecurity measures that will go a long way towards preventing a disease or detecting it quickly. In the event of an outbreak, good farm biosecurity is critical to assist the eradication process. Everyone must play their part.

How does an emergency animal disease response work?

EAD control requires a coordinated response drawing on significant resources and input from all tiers of government and a range of industry groups.

States and territories

When an outbreak of an EAD is confirmed, the state or territory authority will quarantine the infected property immediately. They may also quarantine other properties, such as those close to the infected property or because of recent animal, people or vehicle movement.

They also advise the Australian Government, the other states and territories and the national organisations of the affected industries so that management groups can convene and that agreed consultative disease management and funding arrangements can be put into place.

The state Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO)

  • initiates quarantine, movement controls and assessments around the initial site
  • alerts state emergency-management agencies to activate the animal diseases emergency plan
  • consults with national counterparts and advisors to seek agreement on the preferred national control strategy.

Field activities are controlled from a local control centre usually established in the vicinity of the outbreak. State-wide measures are directed from the state control centre.

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During an outbreak, a high-level committee of chief executives of government parties and senior livestock industry personnel is formed to manage response plans and budgets. This committee, National Management Group, is also responsible for decision making on policy and resource allocation issues.

This committee is advised by the Consultative Committee for Emergency Animal Diseases, which includes state Chief Veterinary Officers and other personnel with relevant technical expertise, including industry representatives.

In an animal health emergency, a national disease coordination centre is established in Canberra by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. This centre is responsible for coordinating eradication nationally and for trade negotiations. It also coordinates resources overseas through the International Animal Health Emergency Reserve if international assistance is required.

How big are the quarantine areas?

Factors such as the disease involved, the terrain of the area, and the local livestock affected will influence the size of the quarantine area.

Why is tracing necessary?

Successful disease control depends on fast, accurate tracing. Considerable expert resources will be dedicated to investigating movement on and off infected properties to determine where the disease might have come from, and where it might have been spread to. A specific ‘disease tracing’ section is set up in each local control centre, and usually involves local expertise to make follow up more efficient.

You can speed up tracing by maintaining detailed records of stock and people movement on your property.  

How long will eradication take?

How long it takes to eradicate a disease depends on the disease and how soon it’s detected. All Australian response arrangements aim to eradicate serious livestock diseases rapidly, so early recognition of anything unusual in your livestock, and notifying a vet, stock inspector or the free call Emergency Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 is critical.

When will freedom from a disease be achieved?

Freedom from an EAD is declared only when all known infected animals have recovered, or in some cases been destroyed, and surveillance shows livestock are clear of residual infection. As surveillance has to include a proper survey of all exposed livestock, it may take weeks or even months. Other countries may also demand that a certain amount of time passes before they will recognise freedom from the disease and reopen export markets.

Preventing a disease outbreak

That’s exactly what farm biosecurity is all about: simple biosecurity measures will go a long way towards preventing a disease or detecting it quickly. In the event of an outbreak, good farm biosecurity is critical to assist the eradication process. Everyone must play their part. 

Two documents have been published to help livestock producers survive an emergency disease outbreak.

Go to Surviving an emergency disease outbreak for more information.