Science-based protocols, vigilance keep ASF, FMD, LSD out of Australia

An Australian industry task force confirms African swine fever, foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease are not present in the country. Neighboring country Indonesia announced a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak recently that has spread to 37 provinces, writes Rick Purnell for The Cattle Site.
calendar icon 3 August 2022
clock icon 4 minute read

Murray Watt, Australia's Minister for Agriculture

Note: The following comments are from a Meat & Livestock Australia webinar held recently to provide an update on what’s happening in Indonesia and what would happen if these diseases arrived in Australia.

Australia is free of lumpy skin disease (LSD) and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). This is the key message Murray Watt, minister for agriculture, and a task force of representatives from Animal Health Australia, Department of Agriculture, National Farmers Federation and The Red Meat Advisory Council shared with viewers during a late-July webinar. Originally formed to address LSD, the task force recently added FMD to its oversight and brought in representatives of the pork and wool industries.

The task force intends that Australia maintain its disease-free status but noted it will take vigilant inspection and testing of imported food products and travelers arriving from countries where the diseases exist.

“Our government is taking this incredibly seriously,” Watt said. “I know people are stressed about the possibility of foot-and-mouth, but also lumpy skin disease getting into the country. That’s why we have been working day and night in partnership with industry to do what we can to keep these diseases out.

“The other message I really want to give you is that Australia remains FMD-free, ASF, or African swine fever-free and LSD, lumpy skin disorder-free, as well.”

Acting based on science helps bring security

While input from industry leaders is helpful, Watt is letting science guide final decisions related to inspection protocols.

“The way I’ve tried to approach this is to act on the best biosecurity advice I can get,” Watt said. “I’m confident I’m getting that advice. One of the things I’ve said in media ([appearances) I’ve done is that one of the ways our country has largely got through COVID in pretty good shape compared to the rest of the world is that political leaders like me listened to the scientific experts and took the action that was needed. Sometimes it wasn’t popular, but it was the right action.

“What we have to do as a government and as an industry is make sure our resources are directed to what’s going to work, rather than on things that may sound good but may not work.”

Highlighting this approach in action, Watt cited action taken when FMD first hit Indonesia. Measures tightening biosecurity, including increased screening, were put in place at the Australian border within 24 hours.

“We’re now at a point where 100 percent of passengers who come in from Indonesia are risk profiled,” Watt said. “Their travel history is examined. Their biosecurity is examined to then determine whether they face more intensive screening of their person or their luggage.

“We’re going to be employing 18 more biosecurity officers in airports and mail centers to take coverage further. We’re redeploying detector dogs to some of the main airports that receive inbound traffic from Bali.”

He added that once the major precautions biosecurity experts recommended were in place, the government moved on to other measures that complemented them. One included sanitized food mats, or baths, at every international airport in Australia.

In addition, Australia is providing 1 million doses of foot-and-mouth vaccine to Indonesia on top of vaccines already provided for LSD. Plans also call for offering more vaccines and technical assistance to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste soon.

“Not one of these things that we’re doing is a silver bullet,” Watt said. “But they will raise people’s awareness about the need to take action.”

Inspection, detection are effective

Thanks to sound inspection practices, Australian inspectors discovered viral fragments of AFS and FMD in a few meat products in July.

“The routine surveillance exercises we undertake in retail operations uncovered a very small number of imported sausage products that contained viral fragments of FMD and ASF,” Watt said. “When I say very small, I mean one or two sausages of products that contained this were detected. Despite these detections, Australia does remain free of foot-and-mouth disease.

“At one level, the fact that we’ve picked these up shows our systems work. This is why we do these routine inspections. And, with measures that I’ve announced in the last couple days mean that we’ll be able to do even more intensive surveillance, particularly when it comes to parcels.”

Australian officials detected viral fragments in meat products brought into the country once last year and on four occasions over the last five to 10 years.

“We will manage this one just as it’s been managed in the past—in a sensible way,” Watt said. “That is based on advice that takes the threat seriously so that the past occasions didn’t get out into the wider community. It hasn’t shut down our livestock industry.”

Watt recently met with every state and territory agriculture minister to ensure they’re doing all they can do in the event of an outbreak.

“It’s the traveling public’s responsibility. It’s farmers’ responsibility. It’s retailers’ responsibility. We all need to play a role here.”

TheCattleSite News Desk

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