How foot and mouth disease could RUIN Australia’s economy

How foot and mouth disease could RUIN Australia’s economy

Australia is scrambling to prevent the biosecurity and economic disaster of a foot and mouth outbreak from hitching a ride on hundreds of travellers returning home from Bali every day.

An outbreak could cost the economy up to $80billion and affect most Australians by raising the prices of everything from a morning coffee to a takeaway burger and the weekly grocery shop.

The warning comes as viral fragments of foot and mouth disease and African swine fever were detected in pork products at a Melbourne retailer.

Australia remains free of the diseases as the live virus was not detected, but Agriculture Minister Murray Watt reiterated the importance of biosecurity measures. 

 The products, believed to be imported from China, were detected in the Melbourne CBD as part of routine surveillance and have been seized.

It’s the first time viral fragments have been detected in a retail setting, Senator Watt said.

The detection comes as sanitation mats will be rolled out at international airports in an effort to stop foot and mouth disease entering Australia on traveller’s shoes. 

It’s the latest measure by the federal government to prevent an outbreak of the livestock disease on Australian shores.

Indonesia has been grappling with the spread of the disease which was recently detected in Bali, a popular holiday destination for Australian travellers.

Australia is scrambling to prevent the biosecurity and economic disaster of a foot and mouth outbreak from hitching a ride on thousands of travellers returning home from Bali every day

What a foot and mouth outbreak would mean for consumers

The Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) has urged Bali travellers to think about the impact a foot and mouth disease outbreak would have on their friends, family and community.

‘Red meat products would disappear faster than during the COVID-19 lockdowns,’ CCA CEO John McGoverne said.

‘Red meat would run out quickly and dairy products would follow soon after.

‘This could mean no steak, no flat whites and no ice cream until we start the recovery.

‘Even when we could start supplying the local market again, it would be a slow return with big shortages.’

Foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious disease affecting cattle, sheep and pigs has been confirmed in Bali

Foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious disease affecting cattle, sheep and pigs has been confirmed in Bali

Returning Aussies who match the risk profile will be questioned, checked by detector dogs and have their shoes and luggage decontaminated

Returning Aussies who match the risk profile will be questioned, checked by detector dogs and have their shoes and luggage decontaminated

The Cattle Council of Australia said biosecurity measures introduced are 'a good start' but need to take into account the disease can also travel on clothes

The Cattle Council of Australia said biosecurity measures introduced are ‘a good start’ but need to take into account the disease can also travel on clothes

Watt said the mats would add another layer of defence against an outbreak.

But Australians returning from the region should still clean their shoes and clothing, or leave their footwear overseas if possible, he said.

‘There is no biosecurity silver bullet,’ Senator Watt said in a statement on Wednesday.

‘Our biosecurity controls rely on a multi-layered approach to mitigate the risk of FMD (foot and mouth disease).’

The mats will be rolled out this week, starting at Darwin and Cairns airports.

They are intended to be a physical reminder to travellers about the risk of the disease, Senator Watt said.

Travellers arriving in Australia from Indonesia will be asked to walk across the mats to sanitise their shoes.

The mats contain a citric acid solution, designed to dislodge any dirt from the sole of the shoe and cover it in the acid.

Other biosecurity measures include passenger declarations, profiling of all travellers entering from Indonesia, real time risk assessments, questioning and shoe cleaning.

A $14 million biosecurity package was announced by the government last week for more frontline defences in airports and mail centres as well as support for Indonesia and neighbouring countries to combat the spread.

But there has already been criticism the measures don’t go far enough, with calls for travellers to face severe consequences for not telling the truth on travel documents. 

One of the main measures includes 18 new biosecurity officers to be stationed at Australian airports and mail centres and biosecurity detector dogs reintroduced to Darwin and Cairns airports.

Nationals leader David Littleproud claimed there is a ‘one in five chance’ of the disease making it into Australia at present.

He told Daily Mail Australia the Labor government had ‘taken too long’ with its response and ‘they need to go further’.

‘The Government must fast track the $20 million provided in the budget for traceability and a gene bank for livestock.’

He also called for ‘3D X-ray scanners at airports for baggage’ to urgently be installed.

The Cattle Council of Australia said biosecurity measures introduced are ‘a good start’ but need to take into account the disease can also travel on clothes.

‘This disease would gut our industry and can easily travel back to Australia on clothing,’ CCA President Lloyd Hick said.

The CCA noted the maximum fines for not declaring banned items are up to $1.1 million and 10 years in jail.

But it said on-the-spot fines need to be urgently increased and called for tough penalties for travellers who make false declarations.

‘The Government should also review its on-the-spot fines that are capped at $2,660.

‘Sometimes fines of a few hundred dollars are issued, but the risk to our industry and Australian economy is in the billions.

‘This is a massive imbalance, particularly when someone has deliberately made a false declaration.

‘Immigration should also look at cancelling visas for people who make false biosecurity declarations.’ 

The Cattle Council has warned a foot and mouth disease outbreak could see our morning coffee disappear

Ice cream is something else that could disappear if the disease reaches Australia

The Cattle Council has warned a foot and mouth disease outbreak could see ice cream and our morning coffee disappear because milk production would stop as humans can catch the disease from drinking milk

The scale of the biosecurity emergency is huge, with hundreds of Australians flying into Bali every day for a break from the cold Down Under. 

On Thursday and Friday, a total of 32 flights landed in Australia from Bali, according to Mr Littleproud.

A Melbourne airport spokeswoman confirmed 686 passengers arrived from Bali on Thursday, and 1050 departed for the island destination.

A Brisbane airport spokesman 23,376 people, travelled to Bali between June 10 and July 10.

National Farmers’ Federation CEO Tony Mahar said an outbreak would bring every industry involving cattle, sheep or pigs to a ‘grinding halt’.

Calls are growing for an immediate travel ban to Bali, or at least Covid-level restrictions on travellers amid the FMD on the popular island

Calls are growing for an immediate travel ban to Bali, or at least Covid-level restrictions on travellers amid the FMD on the popular island

North Queensland senator Susan McDonald says people returning from a holiday Bali should undergo a week's quarantine to minimise the chances of the highly infectious disease entering Australia

 North Queensland senator Susan McDonald says people returning from a holiday Bali should undergo a week’s quarantine to minimise the chances of the highly infectious disease entering Australia

‘If FMD arrived in Australia we will first have to assess the outbreak and how far it has spread and this could mean immediate livestock standstills to prevent further spread. This will bring the supply chains to a grinding halt and if livestock can’t leave the farm, then meat can’t get to supermarket shelves,’ Mr Mahar said.

‘In the worst case scenario it could drastically reduce the availability of chops and snags for the barbecue and meat for your burger, but more than that, all the people along the supply chain will have their livelihoods in the hanging in the balance – farmers, truck drivers, processors, the list goes on.’

Earlier this week one grazier from southern NSW called for ‘an immediate ban’ to any travel to or from Bali.

‘The cost to Australia if foot and mouth disease enters Australia is such that an immediate ban on travel to and from Bali and any other parts of Indonesia where the disease is present, is necessary and a very small price to pay to reduce the risk to Australia,’ said farmer Charles Harvey on Twitter.

North Queensland senator Susan McDonald said people returning from a holiday in Bali should undergo a week’s quarantine to minimise the chances of the highly infectious disease entering Australia.

She said the likely impacts on animals, consumers and farmers were of ‘biblical proportions.’

‘They might think about ‘I haven’t been on a farm,’ but what we’re saying is in Bali you have contact with animals and people who work with animals,’ she said.

People could easily bring the disease in on their shoes or on the bottom of a suitcase if either touch animal faeces.

Ms McDonald was joined by columnist and fiancée of former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce Vikkie Campion, who called for empty Covid quarantine facilities around Australia to be used to keep FMD out.

‘Everyone back from Bali should get a bonus 28 hours in the brand new Wellcamp quarantine station, which the Queensland Labor State Government opened just in time for Covid quarantine measures to end,’ she wrote in The Saturday Telegraph.

‘If you can slam Australian borders shut for a disease we already had, you can justify stricter controls for a highly contagious virus wearing an $80billion price tag.’ 

Sydney University professor Michael Ward said foot and mouth disease is ‘remarkable’ for how it survives and spreads. 

‘It can persist on many inanimate objects, such as equipment used with livestock, people’s clothing and shoes, on the tyres of vehicles and in livestock transport,’ he said.

‘It can even remain infectious on the hands and within noses of those in contact with infected livestock.’

The disease, which cost the British economy $19billion in 2001, led to apocalyptic scenes of over six million cattle carcasses being burned on 2000 farms.

What is foot and mouth disease?

  • It is a highly infectious and contagious ‘zoonotic’ disease that infects cattle, sheep, pigs, goat and deer with blisters, they also drool and limp
  • The meat of infected animals is not safe to eat 
  • Exports from any country with infection are banned
  • Milk production stops as humans can catch the disease from drinking milk
  • Healthy animals must be killed and burned inside a quarantine zone
  • The disease was detected in Indonesia in May 2022 and has spread to Bali
  • People can spread the disease from contact with animals including on shoes, thongs and luggage
  • The estimated threat to the Australian economy is $80billion
  • Over six million cattle had to be destroyed during an outbreak in the UK in 2001 

 

Foot and mouth disease is understood to be at least as contagious as the Omicron variant of Covid-19. 

Although the disease is in theory transmissible to humans - especially from drinking milk - that is rare

Although the disease is in theory transmissible to humans – especially from drinking milk – that is rare

Heartbreakingly, farmers could be ordered to destroy even healthy animals inside declared quarantine zones and burn their carcasses.

That’s because it is extremely contagious and difficult to control and requires a vaccination program with vaccines matched to specific strains of the disease.

Another farmer, Catherine Marriott, the CEO of Riverine Plains, begged travellers to ‘leave your clothes and your shoes over there’.

‘Support their local economies, buy clothes [and shoes] over there and leave them over there. 

There has not been an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Australia for 130 years.

The disease, which cost the British economy $19billion in 2001, led to apocalyptic scenes of over six million cattle carcasses being burned on 2000 farms

The disease, which cost the British economy $19billion in 2001, led to apocalyptic scenes of over six million cattle carcasses being burned on 2000 farms