The Productivity Commission estimated the value of Australia’s dollar would drop by 2.5 per cent in the year of an outbreak.
FMD would have a significantly detrimental impact on Victoria’s exports and lead to mass culling of livestock and consequent loss of genetics.
The estimated impact was based on Australia’s commitment to export 60 per cent of the livestock bred in this country.
Effects on trade would probably have a knock-on impact to other agricultural industries.
The illegal importation of animals and products with bones in them is a serious risk factor.
These were some of the facts presented to farmers at a livestock biosecurity workshop in Bairnsdale recently, one of a series being facilitated across Victoria by the Victorian Farmers Federation, to inform farmers about what to expect in an FMD outbreak.
On any given day in Australia, an estimated 100,000 head of cattle, 40,000 pigs and 30,000 sheep were transported on the roads. It was estimated it would take 72 hours to totally halt movements of susceptible livestock species if an endemic disease outbreak occurred.
Swill feeding was considered the highest risk factor for an outbreak of FMD in Australia. Those views were based on the impact of the 2001 FMD outbreak in Britain, when swill feeding to pigs was identified as the initial cause.
Victoria’s protocols for managing FMD were based on the British experience, with development led by Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Charles Milne, who was in the team that managed the UK outbreak.
“The illegal importation of animals and products with bones in them is a serious risk factor. It’s been classified bioterrorism,” said Dr Jo Cunningham, Veterinary Officer with Agriculture Victoria.
“It’s illegal to feed swill – pigs exhaling air can spread the disease and it can aerolise quite some distance.”
Highly contagious, FMD could also be carried in the cloven hooves of livestock, in faeces, saliva, mucous and milk.
The initial five days was a critical time for diagnosis – via the vesicles and ruptured lesions found in mouths, on muzzles, tongues, gums and on feet and teats. After a week, the symptoms and signs of FMD mimicked other diseases.
Livestock also showed signs of thrift, depression, anorexia, fever, lameness and production loss – for example, milk production drops off. Producers at the Bairnsdale workshop heard a list of actions they could take to mitigate the risk of an outbreak.
“In Australia, on suspicion of FMD, all livestock movement would cease, as well as vehicle movements, except milk tankers,” Dr Cunningham said.
“Saleyards should have an action plan to manage a livestock standstill on a sale day. Empty trucks would likely be able to wash down and leave the saleyards.”
Farmers and others’ boots would also need to be cleaned of mud; people would be expected to shower on site and change their clothes.
“The virus survives best in moist conditions,” Dr Cunningham said.
“Reporting your suspicion of an outbreak can go towards mitigating action against you,” Dr Cunningham said.
Being proactive might also be rewarded with government funding support.
“The Victorian government can subsidise testing of dead and ill livestock,” Dr Cunningham said.
The Australian position was vaccinate to live, vaccinate to die – vaccinating livestock within a geographic ring around the disease outbreak, she said.
To this end, several batches of the FMD serum were on hold overseas for Australians use.
However, Australia’s biosecurity officers were being challenged on almost a daily basis at international airports – 273,000 items of biosecurity concern were seized at airports in 2016, an increase of more than six per cent on 2015.
Meat was the most common item seized at Australia’s international airports –41,957kg in 2016. As well, 7375kg of seeds, 11,579kg of legumes and 23,296 items of pome fruit – mostly apples – were taken from travellers in 2016.
Recently, biosecurity officers at the Sydney mail centre scrambled to intercept a parcel containing fertile eggs that had been posted to Australia.
One of the easiest actions was to declare any hiking or on-farm activity overseas and hand your shoes and boots to biosecurity officers for cleaning.
Hunters, hikers and visitors to farms could easily spread diseases from overseas on Australian soil. Honesty was the best policy, Dr Cunningham said.