Live Export

Do frozen meat imports represent an FMD risk?

James Nason, 22/10/2013

When a near neighbour considers importing cattle from countries affected by Foot and Mouth Disease, it is the kind of development that keeps Australian biosecurity officials watching closely.

Australian aid progams contributed to the successful eradication of Foot and Mouth Disease in Indonesia in the 1970s, work that benefited Indonesia’s livestock industry and helped to provide the security 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.

Outbreaks typically result in the loss of major export markets for the affected country, an outcome that would be disastrous for Australia which relies upon export markets for 60pc of its production.

Earlier this month a new report by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences estimated that a large-scale, multi-state FMD outbreak in Australia would cost our economy more than $50 billion over 10 years.

Against this backdrop a number of developments in Indonesia, one of Australia’s closest neighbours, have raised concerns about the potential for FMD to re-establish there.

Indonesian parliamentarians are currently debating whether to open their country’s borders to beef and cattle imports from free zones within FMD-affected countries such as Brazil. A conclusion to that debate is expected before the end of the year, according to the Jakarta Post.

In recent times soaring beef prices in Indonesia – exacerbated by import quota cutbacks and a widespread beef shortage – are said to have attracted increasing amounts of smuggled frozen buffalo meat from FMD-affected India into Indonesia.

Australian Veterinary Association president Ben Gardiner told Beef Central that the potential imports of cattle and meat from FMD affected countries posed a higher level of risk to Indonesia’s herd, and, as a close neighbour, potentially to Australia.

While live animals were more likely to spread the disease, Dr Gardiner said the import of frozen beef from FMD-affected areas was far from a risk-free procedure.

“It certainly has the potential to (cause an outbreak),” he said.

Dr Gardiner said he would be more worried about buffalo meat from India than zoned product from Brazil, but either way any move to increase risk in Indonesia would be a concern to Australia.

“There is no doubt they are making very good efforts in Indonesia to raise a lot of things, including their welfare, but they don’t have the same level of controls in place that we have because of the nature of governance.

“Biosecurity is being taken very seriously here because of our dependence on export agriculture and therefore we have been working to prove that freedom to the world for ever and a day.

“We have been partly blessed by our island nation status and not having any land borders, but we have taken biosecurity very seriously for a long time.”

Dr Gardiner said recent reports highlighting shortfalls in Australia’s preparedness for an FMD outbreak, such as the Beale Report (2008) and Matthews Report (2011), had led to a redoubling of efforts at Government and industry level to improve response and control systems.

In the past 12 months nine teams of 10 Australian veterinarians had visited Nepal to receive first hand training with herds infected with FMD.

Additionally the AVA has been negotiating the development of a terms of reference for the engagement of private veterinary practitioners by Government in times of emergency animal disease outbreaks.

With the number of Government-employed veterinarians declining in every state, private vets will play an increasingly important role in managing future disease emergencies.

The new protocol will ensure private vets know the terms under which they and their staff will be engaged when called on to assist.


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