Article by: Hari Yellina
Livestock farmers in Western Australia are afraid that the state is unprepared in the event of a catastrophic animal disease epidemic, such as lumpy skin or foot-and-mouth disease. More than 1,000 cases of the highly infectious foot-and-mouth disease had been identified in Indonesia, according to representatives of Australia’s $17 billion livestock business. Biting flies, mosquitoes, and even ticks have been spreading a lumpy skin illness across Southeast Asia. An outbreak, according to Dongara-based cattle rancher and WA Farmers livestock section president Geoff Pearson, could bring the sector to its knees. “This is critical; we need to be right on top of it; readiness is of the utmost [importance] right now,” he said.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development of Western Australia is in charge of biosecurity (DPIRD). Mr Pearson said that while the department’s collaboration with growers and related industries on disease outbreak management was commendable, the process was “not as swift” as he had hoped. “Biosecurity wasn’t always at the top of the priority list,” he remarked. “There were financial and staffing cuts in that area, as well as a reorganisation of departmental personnel in WA.” “This is something we should be paying special attention to and bringing back that knowledge.” Mr Pearson stated that the potential costs of disease would be millions of dollars, and that a greater understanding of the threat to Australia’s livestock industry was required.
Haydn Sale is the general manager of the Argyle Cattle Company, Yougawalla Pastoral Company, and Mandora Cattle Company, and administers eight cattle stations across the Kimberley. He described the threat as “massive.” “It feels like we are underprepared if either of those diseases made it into WA – it would ruin the business.” “We should have been ahead of this a long time ago – it feels like we’ve waited too long.” “There are no treatment options for bumpy skin, and there is no cure.” WA had disease management plans through national response programmes such as the Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan, or AUSVETPLAN, according to DPIRD executive director of biosecurity Mia Carbon.
“The state is in charge of the state component of the reaction,” she explained, “but the strategy for dealing with a crisis is devised and agreed upon at the national level.” “There is a lot of work going on across the country right now, and our senior veterinary staff has been focusing on that and making sure we’re getting the correct signals to WA.” Dr. Carbon stated that the department has formed an internal taskforce to guarantee that enough resources were available in areas such as livestock, biosecurity, emergency management, and market access. If a disease is discovered in WA, she says the department will need to work with private enterprise. Ms Carbon stated that DPIRD had created seven new specialised emergency response jobs.
A study of Australia’s biosecurity standards last year suggested considerable modifications to livestock tracking systems to assist deal with disease outbreaks such as lumpy skin. Chris Patmore, chair of the Pastoralist and Graziers Association livestock producers committee, said the plan to deal with a disease epidemic had not been sufficiently conveyed. “I genuinely believe that they need to put together a thorough programme on this,” he added, “so that the farmers aren’t left wondering what’s going to happen and we don’t end up in a scenario where they find out after the fact.”