Angus cattle staring down the camera NSW

Cattle Industry on Alert for Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Australian livestock producers should be on alert but not alarmed after foot-and-mouth disease was detected in Indonesian cattle.

Around 2,000 head of cattle have been diagnosed with the disease, the first time it has been detected in Indonesia since 1986. Indonesian authorities suspect that the disease has spread from Malaysia, but did not confirm the source.

Industry groups are calling for a proactive approach to prevent the disease from spreading to Australia while the Australian government has offered Indonesia financial aid to secure a vaccine, as well as technical support. According to Australia’s chief vet, the presence of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia significantly increases the risk of an outbreak in Australia.

“We estimated two years ago that the risk was 9 per cent within the next five years,” said Mark Schipp.

“I would expect that that risk would have at least doubled given the proximity of Indonesia, the trade that we have with Indonesia in sending live cattle up there, and the risk of returning stockmen and travellers from Indonesia,” he added.

An outbreak on Australian shores would have a catastrophic impact on the industry with modelling from 2013 suggesting that foot-and-mouth disease would cost $51 billion in lost revenue. The Cattle Council have suggested that the figure would be closer to $100 in today’s terms given the increase in cattle values and trade volumes.

Farmers in Western Australia are calling for a more focussed approach to biosecurity in order to prevent the spread of both foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease.

Haydn Sale, the manager of eight cattle stations in the Kimberley Ranges, said graziers are cautiously concerned about the risk posed by an outbreak of either condition.

“This is a huge threat. If either of those diseases got into Western Australia it would devastate the industry — it feels like we are underprepared,” he said.

“We should have been in front of this some time ago — it feels like we have left it pretty late. It would shut down our beef industry under the current export protocols.” 

Lumpy skin disease is characterised by fever, lethargy and a skin condition but is not generally fatal. Spread by flies, mozzies and ticks, it causes animal welfare issues and losses in production. Australia has retained its status as lumpy skin disease-free, but with the infection spreading through South East Asia, the risk of a domestic outbreak has increased.

Symptoms of foot-and-mouth include blisters around the mouth, limping and drooling and the disease can affect any cloven-hoofed animals, including sheep, goats and pigs. Authorities are warning livestock owners to be on the lookout for signs of both diseases and to report any suspected or confirmed cases to their veterinarian and the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

An outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom in 2001 cost the industry an estimated $19 billion. In a 1967 outbreak of the disease, more than 430,000 animals were euthanised.

Sources: Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, ABC, ABC, ABC, 2GB  

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