National Party leader David Littleproud warned an outbreak of foot and mouth disease could see the nation’s entire national herd “decimated” and leave Australians dependent on imports for meat.
David Littleproud has urged the government to put in place “common sense measures” to prevent foot and mouth disease entering Australia, warning an outbreak could cost taxpayers $80 billion in one single year.
Foot and mouth disease (FMD) – a contagious viral disease of livestock causing fever followed by the development of vesicles (blisters) in the mouth and on the feet – was reported in Bali earlier this week.
While FMD has not occurred in Australia since 1872, the National Party leader warned an outbreak could see the nation’s entire national herd “decimated” and leave Australians dependent on imports for meat.
“This is a frightening prospect and one in which the government needs to act decisively with urgency in understanding the extent and scale of the issue that we’re facing,” Mr Littleproud told Sky News Australia’s James Morrow.
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“The only solution to this, in the past and in the future, will be to dig a hole and terminate the life of that livestock infected.
“That leaves farmers starting from scratch.”
Last week Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the threat posed by FMD is a “top priority” and said high level discussions between the Indonesian and Australian governments are occurring on an ongoing basis.
New measures being taken or introduced include the use of detector dogs in Darwin and Cairns Airports, signage at airports, expanded social media campaigns, training of airport security staff and enhanced profiling and inspections.
Additional measures, including boarding by biosecurity officers on arriving flights from Indonesia will begin in coming days, Mr Watt said.
While Mr Littleproud credited the government for introducing detector dogs, he argued they weren’t “the silver bullet” needed to prevent an outbreak.
“They also needed to make sure that they brought in protocols around footwear – they’ve increased the number of dogs at airports but unfortunately dogs don’t detect foot and mouth disease and particularly if it’s on the bottom of someone’s shoe,” he said.
“So the only way to mitigate this risk is to bring in footbaths or mats whereby people walk through to disinfect those shoes.”
“There are thousands of people pouring through these airports everyday… it only takes one person to have something on their boot and Australian agriculture is cooked.”
He said travellers returning from Indonesia or Bail could also help stop the disease entering Australia.
“They need to declare on their way back, they have to be honest,” Mr Littleproud said.
“They should clean all their footwear and their clothing as best they can before they get home, and also make sure that when they do get back is that all their clothing is washed again.
“And that they steer clear of as many animals as they possibly can while overseas.”
Since being discovered in May, Indonesia has confirmed more than 300,000 cases of FMD.