Concerns are growing that the Federal Government’s snap decision to suspend all live cattle exports to Indonesia could inadvertently lead to Foot and Mouth Disease re-emerging on Australia’s northern doorstep.
The suspension of live cattle exports at a time when Indonesia is gearing up for its highest annual period of beef consumption following the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in August has left the country facing a potential 25 percent shortfall in beef supply.
Indonesian government officials have raised the prospect of importing beef from countries such as India, Brazil and Argentina to fill the gap created by the Australian suspension.
FMD is endemic in India, and Brazil and Argentina both contain zones where the disease is prevalent.
The importation of meat and meat products from countries affected by FMD by Australia's northern neighbour would present a “huge risk” to this country's precious FMD-free status, according to Kevin Doyle, national veterinary director with the Australian Veterinary Association, and former Australian Government deputy chief vet.
“The importation of meat from FMD affected countries is very closely associated with outbreaks of FMD,” Dr Doyle told Beef Central. “This is historically accurate.”
“The transmission of FMD in meat is a very big thing.”
Dr Doyle said the US had experienced outbreaks of FMD in the 1920s through imports of beef from Europe. It passed the US Tariff Act in 1930 banning importation of meat and animal products from FMD affected countries and had not experienced an FMD outbreak since.
Dr Doyle said Australian aid efforts had contributed to the eradication of Foot and Mouth Disease in Indonesia in the 1960s and 1970s. The aid work was not only of value to Indonesia, but helped to provide the protection of regional freedom from FMD for Australia.
FMD is a highly contagious and rapidly spreading viral disease of livestock which can cause serious production losses and high mortality rates in young animals.
It can survive for long periods in fresh and partly cooked meat and dairy products.
An FMD outbreak in Australia would be devastating for the country’s export-dependent beef cattle industry.
Dr Doyle said an outbreak in Australia would result in the immediate closure of many of Australia’s major markets for beef and cattle and the immediate culling of susceptible animals in infected areas.
In 2002 the Productivity Commission concluded that an FMD outbreak in Australia would cost between $8-$13 billion in the year following the outbreak.
Dr Doyle said if the Indonesia Government decided to import buffalo meat from India, which has been proposed as one solution, it would represent a major risk to Australia.
“FMD on our doorstep would be of great concern to Australia,” Dr Doyle said.
“The problem is that FMD is just so infectious, it spreads very rapidly and causes debilitation of animals and loss of productivity and certainly loss of exports because it is readily transmitted by meat.”