Nutrition / Animal Health

Foot-and-mouth disease – what are the chances?

Guest Author, 13/01/2017

Dr Pat KluverHopefully we will never see an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in Australia in our life time. That is, after all, the aim of our quarantine and on-farm biosecurity protocols.

We have had a number of emergency animal diseases (EAD) in this country over the past 40 years, including equine influenza in 2007, and some serious disease outbreaks in poultry like Newcastle disease and avian influenza. To date they haven’t involved the grazing industries.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) estimates that a small FMD outbreak, controlled in three months, could cost around $AUD 6 billion, while a large outbreak would cost $AUD 52 billion in lost revenue over 10 years.

We haven’t had an outbreak of FMD in Australia for over 100 years, with the last suspected case from an imported bull in Victoria in 1872.

But the lack of an outbreak does not mean we should become complacent. As an industry we need to be vigilant about biosecurity and ready to respond.

The most significant risk of entry of FMD into Australia is through the illegal entry of meat and dairy products. It could also be introduced by international visitors accidentally bringing it in on their boots or clothing. This risk is very real. There were eight million visitors to Australia last year, and around 3.5 million containers and hundreds of millions of mail items come in every year. Not all of them can be inspected.

It is of course impossible to put an accurate figure on the chance of an FMD incursion in Australia. However, if we use the accepted assumption from ABARES that it is rare event, an FMD outbreak could be thought of as occurring once every 100 years. If this assumption is right and you are just taking over the family farm with an expected productive life of 40-50 years, then there’s about a 30-40 per cent chance you will experience an FMD outbreak in your life time.

If this outbreak is not contained early, ABARES predicts the beef price could drop by 80 per cent and stay depressed for 10 years.

The reality is there are simple steps that you can take on your farm that will reduce the likely impact of an FMD outbreak.

Be aware of the risk, report anything unusual in your stock to your local vet or the EAD Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Every livestock producer should have their own on-farm biosecurity plan to help protect their livelihoods from the threats posed by diseases, pests and weeds.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) provides a free online course FMD awareness – Protecting your livelihood and community which provides information about the risks of FMD to Australia. Click here for more information.

Source: Livestock Biosecurity Network. Dr Pat Kluver is the LBN Manager Biosecurity & Extension


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  1. Eion McAllister, 27/01/2017

    Perhaps we should have an e device applied to the ear of all incoming visitors to Australia to be able to track their movements around the nation as it seems the greatest risk is the visitor. Perhaps the airlines and Tourism Australia should be required to have a levy on all visitors to go into a sinking fund to be used to compensate animal producers for their losses in the event of an outbreak . It seems only fair that the industry which obviously presents the greatest risk to effective biosecurity be required to fund potential remediating consequences of their activities. Australian producers have to wear the cost of the traceability industry and we would wear the cost of disease outbreaks.The recent shifts in legislation which place all liability at the door of the producer through the new Biosecurity legislation in Queensland are pretty clear in their intent. You are on your own fellas. If you doubt this then look at the recent Prawn disease outbreak and the way those poor bastards have been treated. Not to mention the BJD debacle of recent times. A potential price drop of 80% for 10 years would see the beef industry collapse and with that widespread impacts on regional Australia. But there would be an opportunity to then import carabeef for sale in supermarkets. There is always an opportunity for someone. But I would have to feel for the loss of sales and the closure of the NLIS industry because there wouldn’t be enough cows and sheep around to be profitable.

  2. Robin Steen, 15/01/2017

    All incoming visitors and Australians returning form all overseas destinations should have their boots cleaned and or foot bathed as they arrive in this country.
    Most arrivals rush through airports and don’t declare they have been walking amongst livestock on trails or villages throughout Asia.
    This is a very underestimated risk that would decimate the livestock industry in this country .
    As for bringing in dairy products /meat products let’s get tougher by increasing the fines and if overseas visitors leave them in the airport and put them back on the next plane to their home .

  3. Paul Ryan, 14/01/2017

    Improved traceability across all species is the key to improving monitoring and also quarantine control in the event of an FMD outbreak.

    Our red meat industry’s transition to an integrated digital value chain will enable regulators access to vital location-enabled traceability data in real-time. The MLA’s new eNVD consignment technology (now extended to include digital versions of MSA, EU, PCAS & NFAS declarations) integrated with NLIS animal RFID data reinforces Australia as the world leader in traceability and food safety.

    Victoria’s introduction of sheep EID and transition funding support for eNVD enabled EID software adds further momentum to addressing this problem via the digital value chain.

    Paul Ryan,

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