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Keeping FMD out for another century

Image - Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

By Lachlan Ellis

You’ve probably heard how devastating foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) would be to Aussie agriculture if it arrived on our shores, but a local farmer says we all have a part to play in containing the illness.

FMD affects cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep, cows, and pigs, and can also be carried on people’s clothing and footwear. While it doesn’t threaten human health, it has a significant effect on animal welfare and production.

An FMD outbreak was reported in Indonesian cattle in May, raising concerns that a similar outbreak could occur here – crippling the livestock industry and potentially costing the Australian economy $80 billion over 10 years.

Sanitising foot mats have been rolled out at airports to kill any virus fragments on travellers’ shoes, but not everyone is convinced that’s enough.

Fiskville sheep farmer and Vice President of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) Livestock Group, Scott Young, conceded that the industry was “at the mercy of our borders”, but urged anyone travelling from overseas to take steps to limit transmission of FMD.

“We’ve been able to keep FMD out of Australia for the last hundred years, so hopefully if we do the right things, and travellers do the right things and don’t bring in the wrong things, we can keep it out. We produce beautiful food in this country…don’t bring food back when you’re coming from overseas,” Mr Young told the Moorabool News.

“And on a local level as farmers, we can make sure we’ve got our biosecurity register on our farms, we check vehicles and make sure people’s boots are clean, know where they’ve come from, and keep a register of who’s visited. And don’t come back from overseas and go directly onto a farm…give yourself seven days away from farm animals, even if you’re a farmer.”

If FMD does get into Australia, Mr Young added, it would “flood the domestic market with excess stock” as overseas trade became more limited.

“It’ll affect every livestock farmer, and potentially those involved in grains and all the offshoot industries too. Being a predominantly export-driven livestock economy, Australia exports 70 per cent,” he said.

“But in the short-term, what it’d do is also stop any animals being sold off farms. The majority of farm produce would stop for 72 hours if it did get into Australia, and that means, like during COVID, bare supermarket shelves and a shortage of food in the immediate term. But that hopefully wouldn’t last long, hopefully we could find the affected areas and deal with FMD there.”

Symptoms of FMD include blisters on the mouth, snout, tongue, lips or between and above the hooves on the feet, and anyone who has observed signs of FMD is urged to report them to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888, or to a local veterinarian.

For more information on FMD, visit www.agriculture.gov.au and search ‘foot-and-mouth disease’.