Australia at ‘low risk’ of foot and mouth disease after Indonesian outbreak

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenCountryman
Upper gum blisters caused by foot and mouth disease.
Camera IconUpper gum blisters caused by foot and mouth disease. Credit: Supplied/Agriculture Victoria

Livestock producers are on high alert after a major outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Indonesia last week, but the risk of it spreading to Australia “remains low”, authorities say.

The Federal Government is now scrambling to help Indonesia stem the spread of the highly infectious disease, which it says could cost the Australian livestock sector $50b in the event of an outbreak.

Reports emerged last Friday that FMD had been detected in 1247 cattle in the East Java provinces of Gresik, Lamongan, Sidoarjo and Mojokerto.

It is Indonesia’s first outbreak of FMD, which affects cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, since 1986.

The Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment issued a statement Monday confirming the outbreak — which has now spread to Sumatra — and warning livestock industries to exercise vigilance.

“Australia has offered assistance to Indonesia to combat and contain the outbreak in Java and Sumatra,” the statement said.

“The Department has reviewed import permits for animal products from Indonesia that may carry FMD and suspended those of concern. Australia is free from FMD.”

A “large” outbreak of FMD could cost Australia $50b over 10 years, according to 2013 modelling by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

A 2001 outbreak in the UK caused losses of more than 8 billion pounds, or about $19b in Australian currency.

“For this reason, the department is making every effort to further strengthen national biosecurity and underline the importance of on-farm biosecurity,” DAWE said.

“In response to the outbreak in Indonesia, the department has advised livestock industries to be alert, raised awareness at the border, particularly in the north, provided advice to state and territory governments, and liaised with Indonesian counterparts.

“Past preparations include establishment of an FMD vaccine bank in 2004 to ensure Australia has access to vaccines should they ever be required to respond to an outbreak.”

FMD is generally not lethal to adult animals, but can kill young animals and cause serious production losses.

It is spread through close contact between animals and can be carried on animal products or short distances by the wind.

“The risk to Australia remains low in the absence of close contact between animals or the importation of infected products,” DAWE said.

“Anyone keeping or working with cattle, sheep, goats or pigs should be aware of the signs of FMD: blisters on the mouth and drooling or limping animals.

“Anyone returning to Australia after visiting a farm or interacting with livestock abroad should declare this upon their return, so steps can be taken to remove the risk of transmission through contaminated clothing or dirty shoes.”

Livestock exhibiting “unusal signs” should be reported immediately to a veterinarian or the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

In an email to its members last week, the Cattle Council of Australia said the Indonesian government was preparing an emergency declaration and collecting samples for analysis by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

“This will be necessary to determine the serotype present so that (an) appropriate vaccine can be ordered,” the statement said.

“(DAWE) is working to acquire as much information as possible from our contacts in the country and will update you as further information comes to hand.

“We are engaged with Indonesia and also working across our networks to establish the support that Australia and other global and regional organisations can offer to support a swift and effective response.”

The news comes as the potentially deadly lumpy skin disease continues to run rampant across Indonesia.

“The close proximity of Indonesia has major implications for our biosecurity system and disease-free status,” CCA said.

“Indonesia is our closest neighbour with whom we share an incredibly important bilateral trading partnership.”

CCA is urging all cattle producers to “exercise vigilance” on-farm by ensuring all traceability documentation is correctly completed and reviewing their on-farm biosecurity plan.

Previously FMD-free countries to experience outbreaks in recent years include the UK (2007), Taiwan (2009), Japan (2010) and Korea (2010).

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails