Foot and Mouth Disease Threatens New Zealand

New Zealand government officials are looking into a recent threat that foot and mouth disease (FMD) was released on nearby Waiheke Island (about 11 miles west of Auckland, New Zealand) May 9.

The government received a letter the afternoon of May 10 stating FMD had been released on the small island, says Barry O'Neil, New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Director of Biosecurity. The letter also contained a request for a large sum of money and change in taxation policy. If these requests are not met, the letter said, FMD will be released on the New Zealand mainland. It is unknown who sent the letter.

Operation Waiheke is currently in the surveillance phase of FMD monitoring--all stock on the island are being checked every 48 hours for the next 14 days (the maximum FMD incubation period), says O'Neil. Six veterinarians, two specialist exotic disease investigators, and three media liaison staff are working on the island trying to uncover the mystery, but claim they have not found any evidence that the disease has been released. Checkpoints to control animal movement of high-risk animals (livestock) off the island have been set up at the two main ferry terminals on the island, with nine police officers to assist disease investigators.

Thirty-nine farms on the island house 2,500 cattle and 18,000 sheep, as well a few pigs. FMD does not pose a health threat to humans or horses, but only cloven-hooved livestock.

"While the matter is probably a hoax, we must take all necessary steps to safeguard New Zealand's interests and public welfare," says O'Neil. For now, New Zealand is still considered to be free of FMD.

The virus that causes FMD is an unwanted organism under the New Zealand Biosecurity Act of 1993. Anyone convicted of spreading it faces a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment or a fine up to $100,000. Under the Crimes Act, anyone convicted of threatening to commit a crime that would cause major damage to the economy can be sentenced to seven years in jail. Section 298A stipulates that anyone causing disease or sickness to animals can be sentenced to up to ten years in jail.

For more information about FMD, see

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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