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Keeping livestock in urban and peri-urban areas

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Ratification Date: 08 Dec 2016

Policy

Keeping livestock in urban and peri-urban areas may present special risks to animals, humans, the environment and livestock industries, and thus:

  1. Land, resources and facilities must be adequate to ensure animal health and welfare.
  2. Access to adequate veterinary care and preventive medicine should be available.
  3. Strategies should be implemented to manage the risk of zoonotic disease.
  4. The biosecurity risks require special attention by owners and veterinarians, and substantial support by government agencies.
  5. Education is essential to raise awareness of the associated risks and stakeholder obligations.

These outcomes require input from a range of veterinary expertise in both government and the private sector. There is substantial public benefit in ensuring that registered veterinarians are available to manage the associated risks, or have access to referral veterinarians able to assist.

Background

The urban and peri-urban environment warrants particular attention because there are often a range of co-existing interests including commercial enterprises, small-holder farms, or livestock being kept as pets or companions. Accordingly, some owners are likely to not have adequate knowledge or experience of animal husbandry or health, or an understanding of the more general implications for human or animal health and welfare arising from their activities. This contributes to the risks identified in this policy.

Importantly, the specific risks may be very different according to the climate, soil properties, water quality and other factors at a particular location, as well as the degree of interaction between commercial and other enterprises, or the adaptation of the particular animal species or type to the location. Further, the health or welfare of animals may be affected by different husbandry activities such as breeding, or the introduction of animals which may be of increased susceptibility to, or carrying, particular infectious, parasitic or other diseases. For example, the introduction of malignant catarrhal fever through apparently healthy sheep.

Matters which may require attention include but are not limited to:

  • appropriate yarding and loading facilities to enable veterinary handling and care when required,
  • the risk of parasitism, nutritional deficiencies or other adverse conditions,
  • protection from attack by dogs or other predators,
  • the management of chemical use,
  • the appropriate notification of disease events, and
  • the risk of transmission of disease from animals to humans in areas where people live in close contact with livestock, or where there may be hazards specific to particular geographic locations, such as Hendra virus.

Urban and peri-urban areas are a potential focus of some diseases of concern to animal industries more generally. The concentration of small holders, a lack of expertise among some and the diversity of livestock which may be present in an area, represent a significant risk for pandemic diseases such as influenza or foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

In such circumstances, individual veterinarians have an important role in the area in which they practise, not only in the treatment of disease in individuals and groups of animals, but also in providing advice to owners and various regulatory agencies on potentially notifiable diseases.

It is acknowledged that some local and state governments have contributed policy and resources to address issues around livestock kept in urban and peri-urban environments, as well as the public health issues arising from people and stock living in close proximity.

Guidelines

By virtue of their training and their role in the community, veterinarians should be utilised as a resource to inform owners of their obligations and to facilitate compliance with key animal health priorities, including: the ban on the feeding of human food waste to pigs or materials of animal origin to ruminants; Hendra prevention strategies and vaccination; and requirements in relation to animal identification, movement, and for premises to have a property identification code.

Veterinarians have a critical role in helping owners to understand prevention, treatment and management of animal diseases in these circumstances, and this educational outcome will be best achieved by government and private vets working together.

Recommendations

  1. Governments should invest in training of private veterinarians and assist with provision of targeted resources relevant to keeping livestock in urban and peri-urban areas.
  2. Because there is a substantial public benefit in supporting veterinarians to provide veterinary services in these areas and in encouraging small-holders to seek veterinary advice, governments should contribute to strategies to facilitate these actions.