Foot-and-mouth false alarm sends dollar down a cent

Foot-and-mouth false alarm sends dollar down a cent

June 15, 2001 The Evening Post (Wellington)
A Te Kuiti vet pushed the foot-and-mouth emergency button yesterday, sending the country into a spin and causing the New Zealand dollar to drop almost a cent.

The false alarm led to Te Kuiti's Universal Beef Packers, and a Taihape farm where the suspected infected animal had come from, being quarantined until the all-clear was given by the Wellington-based National Centre for Disease Investigation (NCDI) at 5pm.

A worker in the boning room of the privately owned freezing works saw that a tongue from a slaughtered cow had five lesions on it about lunchtime yesterday.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry vet working on site then called NCDI, sparking a full-scale alert.

"It could have been disastrous, not just for us but for everyone, if it had been the real thing," operations manager Jason Campbell said.

"We would have had no exports going anywhere."

Twenty-six carcasses at the Te Kuiti beef plant and a further 30 animals from the Taihape farm were checked by Agriquality vets.

The tongue was sent to Wellington for analysis, but vets suspect the animal had eaten something caustic.

A spokeswoman for Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Jim Sutton said yesterday's alarm was a sign that New Zealand's biosecurity systems were working.

Within two hours of the call to Wellington, the freezing works and Taihape farm where the animals came from had been isolated.

"This is a good sign the biosecurity system is working and everyone is taking it very seriously. So seriously that when television news promoted a suspected outbreak, the New Zealand dollar dropped a quarter of a cent," a spokeswoman from Mr Sutton's office said.

The dollar slid further in late trading, dropping almost a cent.

Agriquality vet Roy Sproule has attended about six suspected foot-and-mouth cases so far this year.

The Hamilton vet was called to the Te Kuiti freezing works at 12.30pm.

"When you're going to something like this you're hoping like mad it's not the real thing - not just for personal reasons, but for the sake of the whole country. If it got here it would be hell on earth," Dr Sproule said.

After examining the tongue, Dr Sproule put NCDI on full alert and closed the freezing works.

Mr Campbell said the plant's 80 workers had to stay on the property until the all-clear was given.

The Taihape farm was closed off while 30 animals had their mouths checked and temperatures taken by Wanganui-based Agriquality vet Barbara Binney.

The Taihape farmer declined to comment on the incident. - NZPA

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