It’s an outbreak threat that has border security and the livestock industry on high alert, but farming groups are in support of the government’s decision to leave borders with Indonesia open.
Viral fragments of foot and mouth disease (FMD) were identified in beef products that a traveller returning from Indonesia failed to declare, as well as in imported pork floss products stocked in Melbourne CBD retailers, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt revealed last Wednesday.
The affected pork floss products also contained a trace of African swine fever. The items were seized from a number of retailers and one Melbourne warehouse upon detection in routine inspections.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s advice to those importing food into Australia is to ask suppliers for evidence of food safety certification, results of product testing, ingredient information documentation and product specification sheets and sample labels.
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The National Farmers Federation has called for the urgent implementation of 100% screening of passengers from high risk areas and increased resources to Australia’s biosecurity systems.
In a statement, Federation president Fiona Simson says the FMD trace detections were an “example of the system working”, but says resources to Australia’s biosecurity systems and at-border measures on home soil must be ramped up.
The detection of FMD traces in pork floss products in the Melbourne CBD in particular is highly concerning, Simson says.
“We must throw the book at those responsible if it is found that requirements were deliberately subverted, and review the relevant high-risk pathways for any other examples of non-compliance.”
Watt announced that sanitation mats would be installed in airports. The mats clean and disinfect travellers’ footwear safely using citric acid.
The Cattle Council of Australia calls the government response “appropriate” so far but has also called for a review of on-the-spot fines to provide sufficient deterrent against people making false biosecurity declarations, and increased investment in livestock traceability to help provide cover for all red meat species.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made it clear there were no plans to shut borders between Australia and Indonesia, instead focusing on the “strongest ever” screening measures currently in place.
The Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said Australia should “absolutely not shut the border”, while Simson said closing the border would hurt farmers but do little to reduce the risk given the disease’s presence in other countries, Sydney Morning Herald reports.
Viral fragments detected in tracing are not live and cannot be transmitted to livestock, and FMD poses no risk to humans. When the disease was detected in Indonesia on May 9, an expert panel concluded there was an 11.6% chance of FMD reaching Australia — boosted from 9% prior to detection — Australian Cattle Veterinarians president Dr Tracy Sullivan told the ABC.
A viral outbreak in Australian livestock could bring the industry and its $27 billion export trade to its knees for months.
There are measures livestock farmers can take to protect their livestock.
“In the event of an outbreak, the last line of defence against FMD will be at the entrance to your property,” says a Cattle Council response.
The Council advises farmers to update their biosecurity plans, reduce the movement of people and animals on and off their property and to know the signs of FMD. People in northern Australia are advised to be particularly vigilant to check their own livestock and to watch out for symptoms in feral pigs or water buffalo.