Australian authorities are taking precautions to prevent foot and mouth disease (FMD) from entering the country.
Starting from July 7, whenever a flight arrives from Indonesia, a biosecurity officer will board the aircraft and play a message about FMD issues.
“One hundred per cent of travellers arriving from Indonesia will now be assessed against biosecurity risk profiles and receive some form of intervention.” Australia’s Chief Veterinarian Mark Schipp said in comments obtained by AAP.
“That might be they have their luggage X-rayed. They might be interviewed by a biosecurity officer.”
The new measure is implemented following the detection of the highly contagious livestock disease in Bali, a popular holiday destination for Australians.
Authorities will also deploy detector dogs at Darwin and Cairns airports and are considering foot dips for passengers arriving from Indonesia.
However, Schipp noted this approach was not ideal because of the chemicals used.
“They are very potent chemicals. You can’t get them on your skin, and a lot of passengers coming back from Bali, for example, are not wearing boots,” he said
Schipp hoped most of the approaches adopted for quarantine could prevent any transmission.
“I believe we will be able to keep it out well into the future … if we were to get an incursion, it would have devastating consequences for Australian agriculture,” he said. “And for that reason, we need to treat it very, very seriously.”
The Huge Economic Consequences of FMD
If the disease spread to Australia, it would cost the livestock industry an estimated $80 billion (about US$54.5 billion).
Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said on July 6 that the government had strengthened biosecurity at major airports receiving flights from Indonesia.
At present, higher-risk passengers on all flights from Indonesia were flagged for screening.
“Australian biosecurity and particularly the threat posed by FMD is a top priority,” Watt said in a statement.
“High-level discussions have been occurring on an ongoing basis between Australian and Indonesian authorities as well as with local industry.”
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson welcomed the newly introduced biosecurity measures, noting the industry had been on edge since FMD was detected in Bali.
“We are relieved to see the government respond to calls by industry to ramp up biosecurity through detector dogs, greater communications material for travellers and further biosecurity staff training.”
If it were to spread, Chief Vet Schipp said the government would compensate farmers.
The disease affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, with symptoms including blisters on the mouth and drooling or limping animals.
While FMD does not pose a risk to human health, it is severely detrimental to animal health and trade.
A vaccine is currently available for FMD. However, under existing trade rules, vaccinated animals cannot be exported.