Foot and Mouth (FMD) is a disease that causes the loss of significant numbers of livestock, especially cattle. Although posing no food safety risks, it is probably one of the major threats to Australia’s food security.
The animals with the disease must be killed and the carcases destroyed, and this creates a major reduction in the available meat amongst other issues. The increased price of meat is just one of the flow on effects from a FMD outbreak. An outbreak will also result in the loss of export dollars as customers overseas stop buying Australian livestock.
Australia has a very well founded reputation for being very tough in terms of FMD control and prevention, and we have very few outbreaks as a result. However, if the eye is taken off the ball, or investment reduced, this reputation could easily be destroyed and it would take some time to regain it.
A forum was recently held in Sydney to review where we are in terms of the long term preventing, managing and controlling an FMD outbreak. Attending were representatives of all the stakeholders, including; governments, industry, livestock producers, and scientists, as well as a representative of one of the major supermarkets.
Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp said “The FMD Forum, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), marks the first time we have seen a truly national approach to addressing the threat of FMD. Constant vigilance and awareness about the risks, and determination to protect the livestock industry is the only way to ensure we do not suffer dire economic consequences. Last year, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) estimated that an outbreak of FMD could cost the Australian economy billions of dollars. Over a ten year period following an outbreak there would be severe direct economic losses to the livestock and meat processing sector. These losses ranged from $7.1 billion for a small three month outbreak, to $16.0 billion for a large 12 month outbreak (expressed in current dollar terms). It was only a decade ago that an outbreak of FMD in the United Kingdom cost their economy the equivalent of AUD$19 billion, and it was only last year that South Korea experienced multi-billion dollar losses from this disease.”
The forum recognised that it is only by all stakeholders, and especially governments, working together can the long term prevention and management of FMD be achieved. It discussed such issues as; vaccination, scanning, strategic intelligence and strengthening emergency response capabilities.
One of the outcomes was the agreement to basically run a test exercise to determine the effectiveness of current arrangements and the subsequent ongoing testing.