FMD blitz by biosecurity

ADDITIONAL biosecurity officers have been deployed to Tasmania’s airports in an effort to beef up the state’s defence against an incursion of foot and mouth disease. The highly contagious disease, which has the potential to devastate livestock industries, has been detected across Indonesia, including the popular tourist island of Bali where scores of Tasmanians are expected to visit these school holidays.

As revealed in Tasmanian Country last week, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association has launched its own awareness campaign, fearful the state was drastically underprepared and had not provided those on the frontline with enough information. The National Farmers Federation has urged travellers to consider throwing away their shoes at the end of their holiday but as yet stakeholders have stopped short of calling for a temporary halt on travel to Indonesia.

The Tasmanian Government has allocated an extra eight biosecurity staff to the state’s borders, moving them from previous roles in covid border security. Additional airport signage and a communication and social media blitz is also being rolled out to make travellers aware of the risks.

Primary Industries Minister Jo Palmer said the extra staff would focus on those travellers returning from Indonesia, reiterating that the first line of defence remained the national border. “They are going to be beefing up what we are able to do at our entry points with regard to surveillance and ensuring that any leakage is stopped here at our borders,” Mrs Palmer said. “We want to reassure our farmers and reassure those who work in the agricultural space that we’ve got their back and that as a community we are going to make sure we do everything we can to play our part in keeping this disease out of Australia and especially out of Tasmania.”

Kellie Morris from the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association said the fear among farmers was real. “There are very nervous farmers out there, I think we are fortunate we have a bit of a buffer in Tasmania and any measures we can take to stop the arrival of the disease are welcome,” Ms Morris said. “You couldn’t even put a value on that (the impact) on emotional, financial, it would be just crippling for Australia, let alone Tasmania. “The scary part is that farmers know what it’s all about it’s getting the message to the non-farming communities to make sure they are well aware and take it very seriously and not to be afraid to declare items, or speak up when you are returning home, pull out your runners or your items, and feel comfortable doing that.” The Tasmanian Agricultural Coordination Group met earlier in the week, with briefings offered to key industry groups as well as the ALP.

Dairy Tas executive officer Laura Richardson said farmers would take some comfort from the Government’s new measures. “Any steps we can take to reduce the risk of an outbreak of foot and mouth and lumpy skin disease is significantly important to our industry,” Ms Richardson said. “You have years and years of breeding in some of the studs and dairies that has taken lots of money and heartache and something like that can be just demolished.”

Biosecurity Tasmania has 130 staff to cover the state’s entry points. Ryan Wilkinson from Biosecurity Tasmania said the additional officers were a second layer of defence against both FMD and lumpy skin disease. “They will be actively engaging with passengers at our different points of entry, they’ll be asking questions about their travel, where they have been and we have the opportunity on the off chance they are carrying risk material or their shoes are dirty, we can address that through decontamination and extra cleaning,” Mr Wilkinson said.

Tasmania’s chief veterinary officer Kevin de Witt said while the arrival of FMD into Australia would be catastrophic the risk was still considered low. “It’s important for our farming community, all livestock owners that if they have any concerns about biosecurity on their farms, about the health of their livestock that they talk to their veterinarian initially but they can also call the emergency animal disease hotline which is 1800 675 888,” he said.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson travelled to Indonesia this week as the NFF launched a “throw your thongs” campaign urging travellers to bin their shoes when they’ve finished their Indonesian holiday.

“Foot and mouth disease loves to hitchhike on shoes,” Ms Simson said. “That means your dirty old holiday pluggers could be the thing that brings this disaster to our shores. Don’t risk it!” Mrs Palmer also urged travellers entering Tasmania to be vigilant.