For over 130 years, Australia has been free of the highly contagious foot-and-mouth (FMD) disease, which affects all cloven-footed animals (‘split hooves’), such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, alpacas, llamas, deer, camels and buffalo. The disease is now on our doorstep, with confirmed cases in Indonesia and the popular tourist destination of Bali. The risk or ‘estimate of likelihood’ of FMD entering Australia is currently at 12% and if it does, it will have catastrophic economic and social implications for our Country – and our local community.

According to Dr Malcolm Heath of UQVets at Dayboro, the most likely location of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth (FMD) disease will not be out west on a large cattle station. It will be a peri-urban area like Samford or Dayboro. Someone will unwittingly bring back a contaminated meat product from their overseas holiday. If the scraps from that contaminated product are thrown to an animal, then we have FMD.

A veterinarian and large animal expert, Dr Heath and his wife Jane, also a veterinarian, were in the United Kingdom during the FMD outbreak of 2001 and know only too well the horrors of the disease and the impact that it can have on all involved. He is genuinely concerned about FMD and its consequences for our community.  He strongly recommends that people refrain from feeding food scrapes to cloven-footed animals, especially pigs, and especially scrapes that contain meat products.  This includes illegally imported/incorrectly prepared sausage, ham, salami and other meat products which might be in a sandwich. Thrown to pigs or other susceptible animals, it would be an easy way to get FMD started in our Country, said Dr Heath.

For an agricultural trading nation such as Australia, FMD would have a significant impact on our economy, estimated at $80 billion. An FMD outbreak would also result in devastating social consequences. The widespread loss of income for our farmers and others that work in the agricultural sector and related industries would be significant, as would the psychological trauma associated with the FMD control measures that would be mandatorily implemented.

If one animal is detected with the disease, it would instigate the culling and euthanasia of all cloven-footed animals located both on the infected property, and on suspect properties within a wide designated geographical area.

According to the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Honourable Murray Watt, the absolute number one priority is to keep FMD out of Australia. Every person that owns cloven-footed animals, must:

  • have a bio-security plan in place, irrespective of the size of the property or the number of animals;
  • be aware of the clinical signs of FMD;
  • diligently monitor their animals on a daily basis; and
  • immediately report any concerns to their local veterinarian and the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

How can we stop FMD entering Australia?

We all play a part because the virus can be carried in contaminated meat and dairy products and can survive in foods that are frozen, chilled or freeze-dried. Do not bring any food or animal-based products back into Australia.  It is also carried and can remain active for several days on untreated hides, and on people’s clothing, footwear, luggage and items of equipment. Ensure arrival declarations are accurate and that footwear is properly sanitized, or better still, left behind in the country of departure.

What about vaccinations?

Our vaccination bank is held in the UK. The current Government position is that vaccinations will not be used unless absolutely necessary, because using vaccines will reduce our export capabilities significantly.

Foot Mouth Warning SignHow can we stop the spread?

This disease is highly contagious and will spread rapidly in expired air, secretions, and excretions from an infected animal, including milk and manure. Transmission occurs readily when animals are near each other at watering troughs, feeding points, in stockyards, milking sheds or just resting together in a paddock.

Early clinical signs of FMD include: poor appetite, lethargy, salivation and lameness. A rise in body temperature may occur and vesicles may appear inside the animal’s mouth on the tongue, cheeks, gums, lips, and palate. The vesicles are initially small but enlarge quickly and can reach up to 30mm or more in diameter before they rupture. Frothy saliva around the animal’s mouth. Vesicles can also form between the claws of the feet and along the coronary band. Monitoring symptoms and implementing our bio-security plans is essential.

DO NOT entre properties where animals are grazing.

The disease can spread on contaminated equipment and vehicles, and via people on their clothing and shoes. It is imperative that members of the public comply with individual farm biosecurity requirements and refrain from entering, either on foot or in a vehicle, any property upon which cloven-footed animals graze, or which has a biosecurity sign posted on the property gate or fence, unless permission is sought from the property owner.

What will happen if there is a FMD outbreak?

The response will be conducted in accordance with the Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan or AusVet Plan, which will control and rapidly eradicate the disease so that Australia can re-establish its FMD-free status. These objectives are achieved by:

  • immediate quarantine of suspected cases;
  • control of movement of all livestock and cloven-footed pets;
  • stamping out (destruction) of infected animals and those that are susceptible (reside on the same property and possibly properties within several kilometres of the infected property);
  • tracing of people and equipment that reside on the properties or have visited the affected properties during the preceding weeks; and
  • surveillance to detect new outbreaks.

According to local stud cattle breeder, Bronwyn Betts of Nindethana Droughtmasters, reading the AusVet Plan is like reading a horror story.

“The consequences of this disease would be nothing short of devastating and would touch every corner of the community.  As soon as a diagnosis of FMD is made, an immediate national livestock standstill will be implemented and will remain in force for a minimum of 72 hours,” she said.

During this time, infected properties will be identified and a ‘restricted area’ of no less than three kilometres will be established around that property to ensure containment.

“All animals on the infected property will be destroyed, irrespective of whether they have clinical signs of the disease. They are deemed to be ‘susceptible animals’ and as such present a high risk of having contracted the disease and ultimately spreading it.”

Subject to a comprehensive risk assessment, animals on neighbouring properties and within the restricted area, may also be destroyed. This destruction will apply to both production animals and cloven-footed family pets. Beyond the restricted zone, a control zone is established, and this area is much larger and could potentially capture the entire local Government area.

Bronwyn is urging members of our community to be aware of FMD, how it could enter Australia, how easily it could spread, and how it will be managed if it does.

“I urge all landowners, especially those that own cloven-hoofed animals and pets, to be prepared and to ensure that their bio-security plans are up-to-date. If they don’t have a plan, contact their local vet for assistance to develop one now.”