Foot-and-mouth disease detections confirmed in airport seizures
A disease that could potentially wipe out Australia’s multi-billion-dollar livestock industry has been detected at Australian airports.
Agriculture minister David Littleproud said two detections of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) were confirmed by the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in meat products declared and seized at airports.
More than 280 samples were tested for FMD, including a third sample that was deemed inconclusive.
The pork jerky, sausages and other pork products were collected by Department of Agriculture staff between December 3-16 last year, and from January 21-February 3 this year.
Fragments of the virus African Swine Fever were also detected in the meat, with six of the December samples, and 40 of 283 samples taken in 2019 contaminated with ASF virus fragments.
Mr Littleproud said FMD was “considered the biggest threat to Australia’s agriculture” and travellers that didn’t declare animal or plant products would face fines and possible court proceedings.
“I won’t tolerate travellers risking Australian farming,” Mr Littleproud said.
“I’m not interested in excuses, if foot-and-mouth disease got to Australia, it’d be a genuine disaster.”
‘Canary in the coalmine’
Biosecurity expert and Melbourne University professor Tom Kompas said an FMD outbreak could cost Australia’s livestock industries $40-$60 billion.
“That’s the alarm bell, you know the canary in the coalmine warning,” Mr Kompas said.
“The FMD one was a spook to me, because normally we don’t see anything like that. So that’s a detection that’s disturbing.”
“[If] borders close we can’t trade live animals, we can’t send meat products out of the country except to other countries that have FMD.”
Victoria’s chief vet Charles Milne described the detections as “really concerning, but not surprising”.
“The lesson there is that people must comply with quarantine requirements and that applies to everyone in the population.
“The consequences of one of these viruses getting through and infecting our livestock would be catastrophic.”
Dr Milne was involved in responding to FMD outbreaks in the United Kingdom before coming to work in Australia.
“The feeding of waste food to animals is illegal and it’s illegal because of the risks to the health of those industries is immense.”
“In the UK in 2001, we had to slaughter six-and-a-half million animals as a consequence of someone doing exactly that and in Australia it’s estimated the cost of something like that would be in excess of $50 million.”
FMD in livestock and livestock products is not a threat to human health.
Calls for greater biosecurity investment
Australian remains free from FMD and ASF, but Victorian Farmers’ Federation president David Jochinke said the detections proved a greater investment was needed in biosecurity at all levels of government.
“The current penalties are no more than a slap on the wrist,” Mr Jochinke said
“They are an insult to Australia’s food, beverage and tourism sectors, when a foot-and-mouth outbreak could cost Australia $50 billion over 10 years.”
Mr Kompas also called for greater funding.
“Budgets are being stretched and you’ll know when you go to the airport these days at international arrivals only a fraction of people are looked at,” Mr Kompas said.
“It is a trust or honour system. When you actually start checking people you find a lot of occurrences of things that shouldn’t come into Australia.”
“If it were me, I’d spend much more money trying to make sure things stay out because the potential for damages are huge.”
This content was originally published here.