News: Beefing up biosecurity amid Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak

Opinion – Thomas Hall, Agtech and Logistics Hub Director

Food shortages, huge job losses, mass animal slaughters and trade restrictions costing the Australian economy tens of billions of dollars. 

It’s a scary thought but one that could become a reality with just a single misstep in a dirty shoe as an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) rages in Bali.  

It’s the closest that the devastating disease has ever been to our shores in 130 years, with a real danger that one of the million Aussie tourists who visit the Indonesian island each year could bring it back with them.  

Foot and Mouth Disease spreads between farm animals including cattle, sheep and pigs but can also be present in soil, which means it can be walked straight into our country on the bottom of someone’s shoe.  Foot and Mouth Disease is the most feared livestock disease in the world as it is extremely difficult to control, so biosecurity measures are being beefed up at our borders to keep it out.  

However, keeping Australia free of pests and diseases, including Foot and Mouth Disease and others like African Swine Flu, that plague other nations requires a collaborative effort from farm gate to airport security gate. 

Livestock producers, for instance, must implement on-farm biosecurity systems to minimise the risk of Food and Mouth Disease and other infectious diseases, including those that involve the regular inspections of livestock for ill health and keeping records of animal movements.  

Airport security staff, meanwhile, are on the lookout for banned items that could be infected with the FMD virus. Each year, tens of thousands of dollars of meat products are seized at Australian airports including pork products which are a common carrier.  

While strong border controls and the fact that we are an island nation have enabled us to keep Foot and Mouth Disease out, we shouldn’t count our chickens. 

We must constantly be looking at ways to strengthen biosecurity to keep our agriculture sector safe from exotic pests and diseases. 

All it takes is one positive case of Foot and Mouth Disease in Australia to have overseas countries ban our livestock and livestock products for months, potentially years, until it is eradicated. 

Agtech and Logistics Hub is talking with producers about biosecurity risks, not only now but also into the future.  

Data, particularly the sharing of data, will play a big role in future biosecurity. For example, if floods cause the earth to become diseased and animals escape from a truck that rolls on a highway, we can use farm and supply chain data to track the animals and contain the outbreak.  

Biosecurity is a major industry challenge that the Hub is actively scouting solutions for as outbreaks of disease that threaten the agriculture sector become more prevalent. 

We need to ensure our biosecurity is as strong as it can be to ensure our farmers remain productive and profitable, while preventing our animals and plants becoming diseased and securing the nation’s food supply. 

This piece was originally published in the August 2022 edition of Queensland Farmer Today

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