By Sally Heathcote
Viral fragments of foot-and-mouth disease were found in a meat product at Adelaide airport this week following an increase in bio-securing screening following fragments of African swine fever also being detected in Melbourne.
Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious virus that can affect any cloven-hoofed animal, including cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, deer, pigs and camels.
It is capable of extremely rapid spread – entire herds can be infected within 48 hours.
Cattle are most susceptible to the disease, though pigs spread it fastest. Signs include fever, drooling, and a reluctance to move. Blisters appear on the mouth, snout, tongue, lips, or between and above the hooves on the feet. The blisters rupture to expose raw, painful tissue.
There is no risk to humans.
Whilst Australia has remained disease free an incursion into Australia would lead to a loss in production of meat and milk, cessation of trade and the slaughter of many herds.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences projects a widespread outbreak in Australia could cost the industry $80 billion.
Previous outbreaks in otherwise disease-free countries such as the UK in 2001, and again in 2007, were estimated to have resulted in losses of more than 8 billion pounds, or approximately Aus$19 billion. Other large outbreaks have previously occurred in Japan and the Republic of Korea.
The specimens found this week in Adelaide were viral fragments which means that although the animal was almost certainly infected at the time of its slaughter the virus was not infectious and the item from Indonesia (a dried meat product), has been removed from supermarket shelves.
The severity of the biosecurity risk has been a call to arms to the government to increase surveillance at all import ports.
As commercial imports are well controlled it is believed that the virus is most likely to be introduced in contaminated, illegally imported animal products, products which are inaccurately labelled as of vegetable origin but contain animal products (as was the case this week) or in clothing, shoes and equipment used on farms, in rural or wilderness areas, markets, zoos or near animals. It could also arrive in food and garbage washed up on beaches.
In response the Federal government has announced it will add sanitiser foot mats at all international airports in Australia, along with foot mats being rolled out at departure terminals in Indonesia.
NSW Minister for Agriculture, Dougal Saunders, said while the steps taken by the federal government were positive, there was definitely more that could be done.
“I am concerned to hear about travellers coming back from Indonesia who are not being stopped and checked for traces of the virus, which is why I’ll continue to call for 100 per cent of people returning from hot spots like Bali to have their luggage inspected thoroughly,” he said.