A simulated outbreak of foot and mouth disease saw stakeholders at the Roma Saleyards put their emergency national stock standstill procedures to the test recently.
A stock standstill might be declared by governments to help limit the spread of highly contagious diseases in the event of an outbreak.
The activation of a national standstill would likely see saleyards across the country become vital holding centres while authorities conduct disease surveillance and tracing exercises to determine the movements of infected animals.
Issues around stock standstills generated plenty of discussion at the National Saleyards Expo in Roma recently where Animal Health Australia biosecurity and extension manager Rachael O'Brien spoke about the pilot undertaken in Roma last month.
Ms O'Brien told delegates that most selling centres would be required to play a vital role should a standstill be enacted.
She said a standstill would initially last 72 hours and saleyards may not only be called upon to help contain stock in transit, but also assist in detecting disease.
"You have the capacity to hold livestock," she told saleyard operators at the conference.
"You might not be to full capacity on the day so you then become a potential resource which is something that is a bit scary if you don't have a plan in place to manage that imposition on yourself.
"You are also very critical to disease containment. You guys are looking at livestock all the time so in terms of raising that alarm straight away there is a real likelihood that someone from the saleyards would see that before anyone else.
"If you are able to identify sick livestock and stop those livestock leaving a facility you are critical in making sure disease does not spread to another state or area.
"So we want to make sure you can identify disease and know the process if you do see something."
Ms O'Brien said the Roma Saleyards had developed a dedicated Biosecurity Plan - a step she'd like to see all saleyards adopt.
"The standstill documents that ALMA (Australian Livestock Markets Association) has produced have been out for a while and they have a place but what we have been working with ALMA on is an overarching Biosecurity Plan," she said.
Ms O'Brien said it was important that saleyard operators created a plan for a stock standstill without the stress of actually being in the middle of an outbreak.
"They will have done that hard work while they are thinking straight so that it is not a scramble when they need it most."
Ms O'Brien said any saleyards operators that didn't have a biosecurity plan in place could reach out to Animal Health Australia for assistance.
"Ideally we'd like to see all saleyards with a robust biosecurity plan in place," she said.
"Roma was a pilot to see what sort of interest we'd get from industry and we were really pleased with how it went," she said.
Ms O'Brien said the Roma pilot involved the simulation of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in a southern state that resulted in a national stock standstill being called.
"All the stakeholders at the Roma pilot were well engaged and they have given us some really valuable feedback," she said.
"I think both industry and government walked away with some decent feedback and pathways forward."
Maranoa Regional Council owns and operates the Roma Saleyards and local councillor, Peter Flynn praised those involved in the pilot standstill.
"The attendance of over 50 people saw plenty of robust discussion about potential emergencies that could cause a stock movement shutdown due to a disease outbreak in any part of Australia," Cr Flynn said.