CONCERN over the risk of foot and mouth disease (FMD) entering Australia has been heightened after Bali's Agricultural and Food Security Agency reported 63 cows on the island had tested positive for the disease.
At the time of writing, 55 of the cows had already been slaughtered.
Modelling by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences in the same month estimated that a large multi-stage outbreak of FMD would cost the Australian economy about $80 billion over 10 years.
The outbreak is after Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) biosecurity executive director Mia Carbon provided the sobering statistic that FMD, lumpy skin disease (LSD), Khapra beetle and Karnal Bunt would result in a loss of between 45-95 per cent of WA's export markets of the relevant products overnight.
Speaking at the WAFarmers Forum at the Muresk Institute in Northam late last month, Ms Carbon said estimates showed the economic impact of a small outbreak of the disease in a single State would be somewhere in the vicinity of $10-15 billion.
Prior to the outbreak being reported in Bali, Ms Carbon said the risk was "not as great as some may think" due to the specific pathways in which the disease could enter the country.
"The most likely pathway is through the illegal importation of contaminated meat or dairy and then there is also an opportunity of it coming in on contaminated equipment," Ms Carbon said.
"Once that happens it would need to be fed or come into contact with a susceptible animal and the most likely way of that happening is through it being illegally fed to pigs."
However, once FMD is within the animal population the disease is incredibly infectious, and can be spread by the movement of infected livestock, contaminated equipment and clothing.
"It would have potential to move incredibly quickly once it got here, but it is a regulated pathway - so there are a lot of things in place at the border and also pre-border to try and manage the risk of that happening," Ms Carbon said.
Thomas Elder Markets co-manager Matt Dagleish who was raised in south west Scotland which was impacted by FMD in 2001, said the region had still not recovered economically or socially.
"Keeping the disease out of Australia is of paramount importance...we shouldn't have been waiting until it got to Indonesia for it to be a concern," Mr Dagleish said.
"Everyone in WA likes to travel to Bali and, prior to COVID, we had about 100,000 people a month, on average, transiting between Indonesia and Australia, so that is a significant number of people and a risk factor in bringing FMD into the country.
"In 2001 the UK's export levels of sheep meat immediately dropped and it took about five years before it got back to anywhere near the same sort of levels.
"It's similar to what we had with COVID - the quicker you can get the disease controlled and eliminated the quicker you get access to your export markets again.
"We have the NLIS (National Livestock Identification System) and ID tags, so hopefully we are in a much better position than the UK was in 2001."
Mr Dagleish said an FMD outbreak in Australia would result in more farmers switching into cropping,
"If there was an FMD outbreak we would potentially have a lot more grain in the market, so FMD would have a big impact even on the likes of our grains industry as well," Mr Dagleish said.
While LSD has never been reported in Australia before, Ms Carbon said current risk modeling shows a rise from 9pc to about 22pc over the next five years.
Only affecting cattle and water buffalo, LSD could enter Australia through infected biting insects or contaminated equipment or products such as cow hide.
"An incursion would have a very significant impact on exports of our live animals but also our live animal products, including meat, dairy and other byproducts," Ms Carbon said.
"It would also cause significant production losses and animal welfare issues."
With cyclonic winds, in particular, having the potential to come a significant way inland into WA and bring infected insects with them, Ms Carbon said LSD would most likely enter Australia through the north, affecting our extensive pastoral systems.
"The potential is for it to come in through infected insects who bite cattle and then cattle get moved around to other areas and as long as there is another biting insect in that area that cycle will continue," Ms Carbon said.
"Once it's within the country the main way of movement would be movement of infected livestock but also there is the risk of moving infected insects, although it's much lower."
While the Australian Government continues to work with and provide assistance to Indonesia, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea on their biosecurity arrangements and vaccination programs to prevent and manage the risk of the diseases spreading, Ms Carbon said, compared to LSD, Australia was relatively well prepared for an FMD outbreak.
"We have a national vaccine for FMD, which means we can get the vaccine within about 14 days of a virus being typed - that's not the case for LSD," she said.
While LSD vaccines exist, they are not registered for use in Australia and also carry associated risks due to them being live attenuated vaccines - meaning they contain another virus.
Ms Carbon said the Federal government had been working with international partners to determine the best options, in the short-term, to access a LSD vaccine, and also look at new technologies to see what vaccines could be developed into the future.
With traceability arrangements essential to our biosecurity response, Ms Carbon said Australia's current NLIS system for the identification and traceability of cattle, sheep and goats, would not meet the nation's biosecurity needs into the future.
"If we cannot trace animal movements we cannot work out where the disease has come from, where it is likely to go to and to get in front of it, and that's the difference between a $15 billion outbreak in one State and an $80b outbreak across the country," she said.
"We are also doing a lot of preparedness within WA, focusing on enhancing our own diagnostic capabilities, looking at the potential for zoning to keep animals moving where we can and also looking at welfare structure environments across industry."
With the FMD and LSD equivalents for the grains industry Khapra Beetle and Karnal bunt, Ms Carbon said traceability within Australia's grains industry was not as strong as it was within our livestock industry.
Container hygiene continues to pose one of the biggest challenges in regards to Khapra Beetle entering the country, which has fortunately only been found in Australia's metro regions, rather than our growing regions, and is a pest of stored grain.
"This is one that has been detected at the border, is being found in containers and is something that a huge amount of effort has gone into in terms of managing at the border," Ms Carbon said.
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