Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) has the potential to destroy Australia’s $80 billion agriculture industry.
And now, Viral fragments of FMD and African swine fever have been detected in imported meat.
FMD affects pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, deer, alpacas, camels and buffalo. It does not cause disease in humans, horses or companion animals.
It is spread rapidly by contact with infected animals, transmission on clothing and vehicles, and through the air. Feeding food scraps and other waste material to pigs can also cause FMD.
In a statement, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (released on Wednesday, 20 July) said “Some pork products have been removed from supermarket shelves after viral fragments of both foot and mouth disease (FMD) and African swine fever (ASF) were detected during testing.”
“This find does not change Australia’s disease-free status for FMD and ASF. There is no threat to human health from these diseases.
“During a recent purchasing and testing campaign of food for sale in supermarkets around Australia, one sample tested positive for FMD and ASF viral fragments– the test does not indicate live virus. This sample was from pork floss offered for sale in Melbourne.
“Pork floss is a processed, dried meat product that can be imported if it meets strict import conditions that mitigate the risk of exotic diseases, including ASF and FMD. The product was processed, but investigations have not found evidence that the treatment was to Australia’s requirements.
“Out of an abundance of caution, officers have seized product from all linked supermarkets and a warehouse in Melbourne.
“A number of other pork products for retail sale around Australia have tested positive for ASF viral fragments. Officers are in the process of securing products and undertaking investigations. Further information will be provided when these investigations have been completed.
“The department has also been testing meat products seized at the border from travellers and through the mail.
“Recently a passenger was intercepted with a beef product. When prompted by a biosecurity officer, the passenger declared a number of items of biosecurity concern at the border and was issued with a warning. The seized beef item tested positive for FMD viral fragments.
“The public, retailers and importers are asked to be vigilant in their purchases, to play their part in protecting Australia from these terrible diseases. “The government will continue to step up this surveillance activity and will prosecute breaches of biosecurity rules to the full extent of the law. This is across all pathways, not just travellers through airports.
“Pig owners must not feed meat, animal products or imported dairy goods to their pigs. This is called swill feeding and is illegal throughout Australia.
“Foot and mouth disease is considered one of Australia’s greatest biosecurity threats to livestock and an incursion of FMD or ASF would have severe consequences for Australia’s animal health, trade and economy and our regional communities.
“Breaches of Australia’s biosecurity are taken very seriously. Penalties for those who do the wrong thing include imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of up to $1,110,000 (or $5,550,000 for corporate entities) or both.” The NSW Government has received unanimous support for the development of a national, industry-led mandatory sheep and goat electronic identification (eID) system after a meeting of Australian Agriculture Ministers on Wednesday, 20 July.
Minister for Agriculture Dugald Saunders said there is now a strong mandate to start working on how best to implement a national system for sheep and goats. “Individual traceability for sheep and goats will be critical in the event of an emergency disease outbreak like Foot and Mouth Disease in Australia,” he explained.
“This agreement is a major leap towards closing all gaps in our national biosecurity system.
“Recent detections of Foot and Mouth Disease fragments in Melbourne and Adelaide are a frightening reminder of the need to ramp up our biosecurity controls.
“It’s also great to see NSW Farmers throw their weight behind a national eID system for sheep and goats during an emergency vote at their annual conference this week.
“This shows great collaboration from industry and producers to address the Foot and Mouth Disease threat at our border.”
Mr Saunders said a national framework will be urgently developed by federal and state agricultural departments with industry input for consideration at the next meeting of agriculture ministers. “My commitment to sheep and goat producers is that they will have their voices heard during all stages of the implementation and development of a national traceability system,” he stated. Mr Saunders also welcomed an announcement yesterday by the federal government to add sanitiser foot mats at all international airports in Australia, along with confirmation that foot mats will also be rolled out at departure terminals in Indonesia. “NSW has been prosecuting the case for increased biosecurity measures like foot mats at international airports, and while the steps taken by the federal government are positive, there is definitely more that can be done to protect our shores,” he revealed.
“I am concerned to hear about travellers coming back from Indonesia who are not being stopped and checked for traces of the FMD 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.”
Currently, the National Livestock Identification System includes electronic identification of individual animals to allow tracing of cattle, but relies on a mob-based system for tracing the movements of sheep and goats.
Mr Saunders said the NSW Government will work with producers and industry to deliver on their concerns and develop a practical system that works for them.
“We will work with all jurisdictions, and with industry, to develop a framework that works for everyone across the whole supply chain,” he advised.
However, while members of NSW Farmers have voted to support the development of a national electronic tagging system for sheep and goats, they believe it is only part of the solution to the threat of FMD. NSW Farmers Biosecurity Chair Ian McColl said while electronic tagging could be helpful, it would not be a silver bullet for the threat posed by FMD.
“Our members voted to provide in principle support for the development of a national individual traceability system for sheep,” he advised. “However, this national system must have jurisdictional harmonisation, be affordable, and be developed in consultation with producers.
“Traceability reforms must ensure that the costs are effectively shared throughout the supply chain and with government.”
Australia remains free of many significant pests and diseases, which provides a competitive edge in global markets, but it is dependent on a strong biosecurity system.
Mr McColl said recent outbreaks of both Lumpy Skin Disease and Foot and Mouth Disease in Indonesia had created an increased risk of a severe biosecurity incursion in Australia.
“In the event of a biosecurity disaster such as an FMD outbreak, effective tracking would enable authorities to enact preventive measures promptly and minimise an outbreak,” he revealed.
“But we must remember this is not something that will replace strong biosecurity controls at our borders, and our members remain concerned about returning travellers and requirements at our airports. “We are encouraged that governments are listening to industry and moving controls in the right direction, but we must do everything possible to keep FMD out of Australia.”