Foot-and-mouth disease outbreak would devastate Australia’s livestock and economy by $50billion


Foot-and-mouth disease discovered on Australia’s doorstep could affect ‘every household in the country’ if it makes its way onto our shores

  • Foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia has raised fears it will come to Australia
  • Country would instantly have to close meat export industry and lose billions
  • Chief vet Dr Mark Schipp called FMD ‘frightening’ biosecurity threat to country 

An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia has raised fears the virus could jump to Australia and wipe out livestock causing $50billion in losses.

Indonesia, which had been free of FMD for more than three decades, has recorded outbreaks in East Java and Sumatra, with more than a thousand cattle coming down with the disease in each location. 

The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment warned an outbreak on a medium to large scale would devastate the cattle, sheep, goat and pig industries in Australia.

The country’s meat export industry would be shut down and $25billion instantly wiped off the export value while $50billon would be lost over the following 10 years.

An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia has raised fears the virus could jump to Australia and wipe out livestock causing $50billion in losses (stock image)

One of the worst outbreaks was recorded in the United Kingdom in 2001 when farmers were forced to slaughter six million animals to curb the spread of the virus (pictured, cattle slaughtered after FMD detected in England in 2007)

One of the worst outbreaks was recorded in the United Kingdom in 2001 when farmers were forced to slaughter six million animals to curb the spread of the virus (pictured, cattle slaughtered after FMD detected in England in 2007)

Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp labelled it the most ‘frightening animal agriculture biosecurity threat to Australia’.

‘And for that reason, we’ve been preparing for this eventuality for many years,’ he said. 

One of the worst outbreaks was recorded in the United Kingdom in 2001 when farmers were forced to slaughter six million animals to curb the spread of the virus. 

Dr Schipp first sounded the alarm in May when he warned the risk of FMD entering the country has likely doubled from nine per cent as a result of the outbreak in Indonesia. 

‘It reflects the substantial change in our biosecurity situation, we had Indonesia, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea as a disease-free buffer … but we’re losing that buffer,’ he said.

FMD is not the only disease running rampant in the country with cases of lumpy skin disease and African swine fever detected as well.

‘We know if we had a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Australia it would be very difficult to respond to … and the trade impacts on Australia’s livestock and loss of product exports would be absolutely immense,’ he said.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment warned an outbreak on a medium to large scale would devastate the cattle, sheep, goat and pig industries in Australia (stock image)

The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment warned an outbreak on a medium to large scale would devastate the cattle, sheep, goat and pig industries in Australia (stock image)

Dr Schipp said the current vaccination program tackling lumpy skin disease in Indonesia ‘does not seem to be effective’ in stopping the disease spreading.

He made a trip to Darwin where he met with the chief vets from across Australia to discuss the ‘increased biosecurity threat’ across Northern Australia.

What is foot-and-mouth disease? 

Foot-and-mouth disease is highly-contagious between animals.

It can spread by breath, infected milk, semen, faeces and urine.

Infected animals develop blisters around their noses or mouths.

The disease can have lifelong impacts and reduce productivity among livestock. 

‘Foot-and-mouth disease … would have absolutely devastating consequences for animal agriculture in Australia,’ Dr Schipp said.

Dr Schipp said there is the potential for the disease to spread further given the ‘enormous’ numbers of cattle in those areas, and an ongoing shortage of vets in some regional parts of Australia poses a threat to biosecurity.

‘A delay in detection will mean that the outbreak will be far larger and require much greater resources to respond to,’ he said.

Dr Schipp said an additional $400 million had been requested and granted last year, and they will request extra resources when needed.

‘There’s rarely enough money for all the things we would like to do but we’ve got more money than we had two years ago and we’re making good use of that,’ he said.

‘Both the minister and the shadow spokesperson… both of them have agreed if we need additional resources at this time they’ll be immediately provided.’

The National Farmers’ Federation said compared the risk of FMD spreading from Indonesia to Australia to the Covid outbreak on the Ruby Princess.

‘Now we have diseases on our doorstep it’s critical, it’s almost like another Ruby Princess moment for agriculture and Australia … when one of these diseases hits our shores,’ NFF president Fiona Simson said.

Australia's meat export industry would be shut down and $25billion instantly wiped off the export value while $50billon would be lost over the following 10 years (stock image)

Australia’s meat export industry would be shut down and $25billion instantly wiped off the export value while $50billon would be lost over the following 10 years (stock image)

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