Article by: Hari Yellina
Millions of cows, lambs, and pigs were burnt in a desperate campaign against foot-and-mouth illness in the winter of 2001, resulting in noxious plumes of smoke rising from the British countryside. People’s movements were restricted as authorities struggled to manage the deadly outbreak, and rural areas became no-go zones for city dwellers. International trade in UK cattle meat and dairy products has been halted, a general election has been postponed for the first time since World War II, and major rural events have been cancelled. The epidemic wreaked havoc on the UK economy, costing the country $13 billion and claiming the lives of around 6 million animals.
Although Australia has been free of the viral disease since the late 1800s, it remains the most dreaded — and possibly costly — biosecurity danger to the livestock industry. Now that foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) has been discovered in Indonesian cattle, the livestock industry is on high alert, with Australian veterinarians working tirelessly to assist Indonesian authorities in their efforts to limit the outbreak. However, some producers are concerned about how Australia will cope if the extremely contagious disease spreads, saying that every household in the country will be affected. According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, an epidemic in Australia would shut down the country’s meat export business for at least a year, wiping out $25 billion in export value.
According to studies, a medium-to-large-scale FMD pandemic in Australia would cost $50 billion in economic damages over ten years. The national implications of an outbreak, according to Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, would be devastating. “All of Australia’s market access for beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs would be gone if foot-and-mouth disease were to penetrate anywhere in Australia,” he said. “It would be put on hold at first because we wouldn’t be able to meet our trading partners’ certification criteria.” Dr. Schipp recently addressed Landline about how disastrous a local outbreak might be: “Foot-and-mouth disease is Australia’s most serious animal agricultural biosecurity danger.” “And for that reason, we’ve been preparing for this eventuality for many years.”
In Australia, the repercussions of an outbreak would be felt throughout industries, from cities to rural areas, and in every home. Consumers would adjust their eating patterns and avoid domestic red meat, according to a 2002 Productivity Commission report on the impact of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. “With the exception of chicken meat, the volume of animal products consumed is initially anticipated to reduce,” it stated. Authorities foresee considerable social upheaval and mental health difficulties in outlying villages. According to Agriculture Victoria, “social consequences at the individual and family level could vary from emotional stresses on family ties to serious mental problems.” “Normal community activities may be affected by movement and biosecurity restriction and longer-term community cohesion may be impacted.”
If an outbreak occurred in Australia, the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, as well as the relevant state agriculture agencies, would lead the response. The chief veterinary officer (CVO) in the state or territory where the outbreak occurs is in charge of putting together an Emergency Animal Disease Response Plan for the outbreak. The response to FMD is outlined in AUSVETPLAN, a nationally agreed-upon response strategy that includes two options: slaughter-out the disease or vaccination-based control. State and territorial biosecurity authorities practise implementing these policies on a regular basis. Following confirmation of FMD, the strategy calls for a national livestock halt, followed by contact tracing of animals that may have come into contact with the disease.