FOUR years after Australia was on the brink of losing the important Middle Eastern live sheep trade, due to the increased prevalence of scabby mouth, incidents of the disease are now almost negligible. The problem was overcome by an industry wide program co-ordinated by the Scabby Mouth Co-ordinating Committee (SMCC). The SMCC included representation from live exporters, the Livestock Salesmen's Association, WAMMCO International, producer groups and vaccine manufacturers, with funding support from Agriculture WA, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and the exporters. The highly successful Scratch to Catch the Market campaign was launched to encourage producers to vaccinate against the disease, which causes unsightly scabs on the mouths of sheep. With the task achieved, SMCC is to be replaced by a new body, the Live Export Industry Advisory Committee, which will oversee all live export issues, including monitoring scabby mouth. SMCC executive officer Michael Johns, from Agwest, said the incidence of scabby mouth on shipments of live sheep to the Middle East had fallen from up to 50 per cent in 1996, to less than 4pc. "Recent trial shipments to Saudi Arabia have had no sheep visibly affected by scabby mouth," he said. "Western Australian producers, who are expected to apply more than eight million vaccine doses this year, are to be congratulated for taking up the challenge to vaccinate their lambs against scabby mouth." Bahrain-based MLA livestock services manager Neil Buchanan agreed. "By taking up the challenge to vaccinate their lambs for scabby mouth, sheep producers in WA have been able to consolidate markets in Jordan, Kuwait and in the United Arab Emirates," he said. "The biggest benefit to producers from reducing the incidence of scabby mouth is the resumption of the valuable Saudi Arabian trade, after the recent successful conclusion of several trial shipments that could generate annual demand for more than a million sheep." The process has been facilitated by Agwest researchers Richard Norris and Don Moir, who, in a world first, developed a protocol to assist the resumption of the Saudi Arabian trade. Their monitoring trials proved that shipments could be delivered to the Middle East with less than 5pc of sheep visibly affected with scabby mouth. SMCC chairman Steve Meerwald, from Wellard Rural Exports, paid tribute to the members of the Committee for making the campaign a success. "Market access issues have been resolved, new markets have been opened and current markets have been secured," he said. "I congratulate the sheep producers of WA on accepting the need to vaccinate their lambs and I thank the support of the Meat Research Corporation, MLA and Agwest."