Australia’s animal health laboratory network seeks to sustain and improve the quality of livestock and livestock products, and to assure domestic and international market access through the application of best practice to veterinary laboratory services.
SCAHLS is a sub-committee of the Animal Health Committee (AHC), which reports to the Primary Industries Standing Committee (PISC). SCAHLS comprises representatives from the laboratory service in each state and commonwealth jurisdiction, as well as a representative for each of the universities, private commercial sectors and not-for-profit public organisations. Membership includes:
- the state and territory animal health laboratories
- the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL)
- private animal health laboratories
- the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer (OCVO)
- Biosecurity Australia (BA)
- Animal Health Australia (AHA)
- each of the university veterinary schools (laboratories)
- the National Association for Testing Authorities (NATA), and
- the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries New Zealand.
There are also representatives from the Australian National Quality Assurance Program (ANQAP) and Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (AB-CRC) participating in SCAHLS' activities as observers. The members collectively contribute to the support of Executive Officer and a member of the AHC chairs the Committee.
SCAHLS acts as a forum for national coordination on issues such as:
- quality assurance
- new test development
- standard diagnostic procedures
- emergency animal disease (EAD) preparedness
- develop and maintain a system of reference laboratories
- organise and promote training opprotunities
- technical advice relating to diagnostic testing, and
- contribute to the National Animal Health Information System (NAHIS).
Australian Animal Health Laboratories
AAHL at Geelong, Victoria is a high-security laboratory for EAD diagnosis and research. The laboratory:
- provides training in EAD recognition and diagnosis for Australia's and overseas animal health field and laboratory staff, and is
- a designated OIE and/or national reference laboratory for bluetongue, avian influenza, Newcastle disease, Hendra and Nipah virus diseases, yellowhead disease, epizootic haematopoietic necrosis, brucellosis and rabies, and
- an OIE Collaborating Centre for New and Emerging Diseases.
In addition to AAHL, there are state or territory government, private and university animal health laboratories within the network.
- eleven government animal health laboratories
- six central state or territory government laboratories
- five regional 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 six veterinary schools, and
- a number of private veterinary laboratories across five states.
Standards and Accreditation
Australian Government animal health laboratories must be accredited to international standards.
NATA administers this process to ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standards (General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories) for veterinary laboratories. NATA represents Australia in the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and 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 Australian and New Zealand Standard Diagnostic Procedures (ANZSDPs) and publishes revisions and new titles as required, in line with OIE recommended procedures.
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 Primary Industries at Attwood, Victoria.
The program conducts inter-laboratory proficiency testing for assays used in quarantine, export certification and national disease control programs. Procedures are based on ANZSDPs and constitute the major external proficiency testing program for laboratory accreditation and for endorsement by AQIS to undertake export testing.
Accredited laboratories also participate in a range of other inter-laboratory proficiency testing programs for haematology, biochemistry, parasitology, histopathology, serology and bacteriology.