Australia’s animal health laboratory network seeks to sustain and improve the quality of terrestrial and aquatic animal products, and to assure domestic and international market access through the development and application of best practice to veterinary laboratory services.
Sub-committee on Animal Health Laboratory Standards (SCAHLS)
SCAHLS is a sub-committee of the Animal Health Committee (AHC), which reports to the National Biosecurity Committee (NBC). SCAHLS comprises representatives from the laboratory service in each state and the Commonwealth jurisdiction, as well as representatives for the universities, private laboratory sectors not-for-profit public organisations and New Zealand government. Membership includes:
- the state and territory animal health laboratories
- the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL)
- private animal health laboratories
- Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
- Animal Health Australia (AHA)
- Australian and New Zealand Veterinary Deans’ Committee
- the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA)
- the Public Health Laboratory Network
- the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries.
There are also representatives from the Australian National Quality Assurance Program (ANQAP) and the Subcommittee on Aquatic Animal Health (SCAAH) participating in SCAHLS' activities as permanent observers. A member of the AHC chairs (currently Director of AAHL) the Committee.
SCAHLS acts as a forum for national coordination on issues such as:
- quality assurance
- new test evaluation and development, including an up-to-date test register standard diagnostic procedures
- emergency animal disease (EAD) preparedness and response relating to diagnostics and biosecurity
- a national reference laboratory system
- EAD training opportunities
- technical and policy advice relating to diagnostics, biosecurity and biosafety.
SCAHLS also contributes to laboratory and general disease surveillance initiatives and the National Animal Health Information System (NAHIS).
Australian Animal Health Laboratory Network (AAHL)
AAHL is a CSIRO national facility based in Geelong, Victoria and one of the six major high-containment animal health laboratories in the world. AAHL is designed for EAD diagnosis and research and substantially funded by the department for the following activities:
- providing diagnosis of and emergency response to EADs, including relevant research and surveillance works
- providing technical and scientific advice on EADs
- providing education and training in EAD recognition and diagnosis for animal health workers
- serving as an OIE reference centre for bluetongue, avian influenza, Newcastle disease, Hendra and Nipah virus diseases, yellowhead disease, epizootic haematopoietic necrosis and OIE Collaborating Centre for New and Emerging Diseases as well as a national reference laboratory for brucellosis and rabies
- maintaining and improving microbiological and physical security of the facility.
In addition to AAHL, the network includes state or territory government, private and university animal health laboratories. The network comprises:
- six central state or territory government laboratories
- a private laboratory contracted by the Victorian government to undertake additional diagnostic and investigative work
- a private company contracted by South Australia's government to manage and operate the government laboratory
- an associated veterinary diagnostic laboratory in each of Australia’s eight veterinary schools, and
- a number of private veterinary laboratories across five states.
Standards and Accreditation
Government and major private animal health laboratories in Australia are accredited to relevant international standards (i.e. ISO/IEC 17025:2005) through NATA which is a member of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and represents Australia in ILAC activities. Accreditation through NATA provides an important mechanism for formal recognition to competent testing services, thus improving the efficiency and competitiveness of Australian animal industries in international and national markets.
SCAHLS maintains a comprehensive series of disease-based Australian and New Zealand Standard Diagnostic Procedures (ANZSDPs) and publishes revisions and new titles as required, in line with OIE recommended procedures with requirements specific to Australian situations included.
Quality Assurance (QA)
As part of its role in contributing to quality assurance, SCAHLS facilitates inter-laboratory proficiency testing through the ANQAP.
About 30 government and private veterinary laboratories in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, China and South Africa are involved in the program which is funded by the user laboratories and based in the Department of Environment and Primary Industries at Bundoora, Victoria.
The program conducts inter-laboratory proficiency testing for assays used in quarantine, export certification and national disease control programs.
Accredited laboratories also participate in a range of other inter-laboratory proficiency testing programs for haematology, biochemistry, parasitology, histopathology, serology, molecular (genetic) detection, and bacteriology.
The Laboratories Emergency Animal Disease Diagnosis and Response (LEADDR) Network
SCAHLS also oversees another national laboratory network, namely the LEADDR network, formed in early 2009. Its inception was linked to the understanding that successfully managing all technical aspects of testing capacity nationwide is crucial to launching an effective large-scale emergency response when required. As such the network aims to standardise, or otherwise harmonise, routine frontline testing platforms (such as serology and rapid molecular testing) for a number of targeted terrestrial and aquatic EADs through ANQAP or its own programmes. Currently, the network consists of all the government animal health laboratories and the department.