Foot and mouth threat

TASMANIAN farmers are taking matters into their own hands as they fear the state is not adequately prepared to respond to the threat of foot and mouth disease.

FMD has the potential to devastate the Australian livestock industry to the tune of some $80 billion over the next decade. It has been detected in several Indonesian provinces including the popular holiday island destination of Bali. The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association has launched an awareness campaign in an effort to make holidaymakers in particular aware of the risks and the measures they can take to prevent bringing the disease into Tasmania.

TFGA acting chief executive Marcus McShane has called for the Government to ramp up the state’s biosecurity response. “We have members asking right now for Tasmania-specific information regarding an FMD outbreak,” Mr McShane said. “Ideally we are calling for the state to conduct a ‘dry run’ involving key industry stakeholders, so we all know who needs to do what and when.

“We need to increase tracking at our airports especially over the school holiday period. “We want to iron out any communication missteps and ambiguity, so we can minimise the loss and devastation an FMD outbreak would cause our state.”

Foot and mouth disease is a highly contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hooved animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and buffalo. It is capable of extremely rapid spread with cattle the most susceptible, although it spreads the fastest through pigs.

The Federal Department of Agriculture said an incursion of the disease into Australia would lead to a loss in production of meat and milk and cessation of trade and the slaughter of many animals. Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the Federal Government had ramped up tough biosecurity measures at the Australian border after the detection of FMD in Bali.

The new measures include introducing biosecurity detector dogs at Darwin and Cairns airports, increased surveillance of mail from Indonesia as well as additional signage and distribution of flyers at major airports and additional training of airport biosecurity staff. Biosecurity officers will also begin boarding all flights arriving from Indonesia.

Senator Watt said the Government would also expand its social media campaign informing travellers of their biosecurity responsibilities. “It is crucial that every traveller returning to Australia from areas affected by FMD follows biosecurity instructions we have in place at the border,” Senator Watt said. A Tasmanian Department of Natural Resources spokesperson said a Tasmanian FMD and lumpy skin disease taskforce had been formed with key stakeholders and State Government. “Task group members will work collaboratively to ensure all identified stakeholders are both well informed and prepared for emerging FMD and LSD biosecurity threats through their respective communication channels and stakeholder relationships,” the spokesperson said. “Tasmania along with all Australian states have agreed to a detailed contingency plan for responding to the outbreak of any of the major exotic animal diseases.”

But Mr McShane said the industry taskforce last met on June 14 and wasn’t due to meet again until August. “More work needs to be done to make sure Tasmania is fully prepared if FMD hits the mainland and Tasmania itself,” Mr McShane said.

The TFGA campaign warns people to disinfect footwear and properly declare items on re-entry to Australia. The TFGA website also has a dedicate page to FMD preparedness and will be mailing out farm signage, farm biosecurity templates and contact information for its members.

Australia’s last recorded case of foot and mouth disease was in 1872.

Indonesian authorities report the disease has been detected in more than 60 cows in 22 provinces across the country including three locations in Bali. Indonesia is working to vaccinate its entire cattle herd but until this is complete the risk of the disease entering Australia is considered very high. High risk materials cannot be brought into Australia including contaminated equipment or clothing, animals or animal products such as meat products and cheese.

Australia also maintains an FMD vaccine bank internationally and vaccine is available for use if there is an incursion in Australia.

Anyone keeping or working with cattle, sheep, goats or pigs should be aware of the signs of FMD: blisters on the mouth and drooling or limping animals. If livestock exhibit any unusual signs, people are urged to call their veterinarian or Australia’s Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

For more information on FMD, please visit footandmouthdisease