PLEASE NOTE: If you have been to Bali/Indonesia in the past three months please notify us before coming on farm. If you have, do not wear shoes, clothing or bring equipment which you traveled with onto our farm, or any farm in Australia for 6 months. Please avoid coming onto our farm for 7 days after you return. Please work with customs officials to declare all high risk products and follow their advice. From all at HOFC, thanks for working with us.
Many of you may have heard in the Australian media about the current risks of foot and mouth disease (FMD). We thought we’d take this opportunity to reach out to all our readers to talk about the risk, how it could affect everyone throughout our society and give you some tools to help reduce the risk of what would be the devastating outcomes if there was an outbreak in Australia.
We consider our farm at the Harcourt Organic Farming Coop in the high risk category because unlike many farms we are very open to the public with customers coming on site to collect produce, running tours to engage people in their food system and hosting many volunteers and staff. However this also gives us a great opportunity to reach out to the greater community and help them get up to speed with managing the risk as a whole community.
What is FMD?
FMD is a highly contagious virus of cloven hoofed animals. These include cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, deer, camels etc of which Australia has many, both domestic and wild. It spreads rapidly between animals through breath, saliva, mucus, milk and faeces. It can be excreted by animals for up to four days before clinical signs appear. FMD virus can also be spread on wool, hair, grass or straw, by the wind, or by mud or manure sticking to footwear, clothing, livestock equipment or vehicle tyres which is why management of human behaviour becomes very important. Clinical signs of FMD are the appearance of blisters between the toes, on the heels, mammary glands, lips, tongue and palate. This is not to be confused with Hand-Foot-and- Mouth disease which humans can contract, the two are non related. When animals develop lesions on their feet and mouths it can become incredibly painful leaving them unable to eat and walk which are both critical for animals to survive and thrive. FMD is not a food safety concern. The virus may remain infective in the environment for several weeks to months.
What’s the history of FMD?
FMD has not been seen in Australia for 130 years. Australia was a very different country then; there were fewer at risk animals, and their movement was on a much more localised scale meaning containment was much simpler.
The disease is present in parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America.
The most well known outbreaks for many Australians will be from 1967 and 2001 in the UK. The 2001 outbreak had 2000 confirmed cases and as a result 6 million cows and sheep were killed with an estimated cost of £8bn. Outbreaks like this are devastating for an entire nation. Farms were in lockdown: no animals could be moved around the country and possibly contaminated vehicles, equipment and humans were traced and decontaminated as they came and went from farms. All animals on neighbouring farms to an outbreak had to be culled regardless of condition. Rural areas were filled with the smoke from piles of burning animals for weeks, halting tourism for many areas and resulting in a general downturn for rural economies. The long term impact on the mental health of all involved is still felt.
What is the current risk to Australia of a FMD outbreak?
In May 2022, an outbreak of FMD was reported in cattle in Indonesia; Bali being the Indonesian island much favoured by Australian holiday makers. This has significantly increased Australia’s risk, from 9% to 11.6%, of the virus reaching our shores which would have severe consequences for Australia’s animal health and trade.
FMD is most likely to be introduced through contaminated, illegally imported animal products (live animals, semen or uncooked meat or unprocessed dairy products from FMD-affected countries or zones) or through objects (e.g. footwear, equipment) contaminated with the virus, that come in contact with susceptible animals.
How might it impact Australia as a country?
A large FMD outbreak in multiple states across Australia is estimated to have a direct economic impact of up to $80 billion over 10 years. This is largely due to the size of Australia’s export market, with nearly two thirds of Australia’s beef and lamb grown for export. If there is a confirmed case in Australia it would halt the market overnight.
An animal standstill would be brought in immediately meaning animals couldn’t be moved between properties.
Tracing and surveillance of all animal movements would be used; trucks, feed, sale yards, processing facilities etc. The livestock traceability programme in Victoria means all sheep and cattle are electronically tagged for quick traceability of animal movements via the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS).
Culling of all animals within a 3km radius of confirmed cases.
Emergency vaccination would be a part of Australia’s response to contain and eradicate FMD. As it is a live vaccine our stocks are stored overseas and cannot be used until an outbreak occurs. Once a vaccination programme is rolled out we will lose out export status of ‘free from FMD, without vaccination’ which would affect trade.
How might it impact our community and HOFC?
In the current situation with FMD still not in the country, we will be working to educate, monitor and restrict the movements of people returning from Indonesia/Bali onto the farm.
If the disease is detected in Australia we will then implement stricter restrictions on farm; foot baths or farm only footwear and restricted access to the public. Depending on where the outbreak is this may result in stopping farm shop collections, stopping farm tours and workshops, heavily restricting who and how people come onto the farm which in turn would significantly affect all people/businesses within the coop and our greater community.
I currently do move animals between properties – cows to the bull, heifers out on adjistment as our property here is not set up to house all animals involved in Sellar Dairy: we would need to reduce or stop these movements.
The aim is to avoid worst case scenario. If a case was confirmed within 3km of the farm we may have no choice but to cull our herd, no matter their health or interaction with neighbouring animals. Even worse would be if we were the farm to host an outbreak due to someone coming on farm with contaminated footwear.
What can we do to minimise the risk of an outbreak?
After the last two and a half years everyone should be well and truly familiar with the process of ‘minimising the risk’ and quarantine.
So while FMD has not been detected in Australia, let’s keep it simple. If you have been to Bali/Indonesia in the past three months or intend to visit, do not wear shoes or clothing or bring equipment which you traveled with onto our farm, or any farm in Australia for 6 months. Give them a good clean and put them in the back of the cupboard to quarantine. In general it’s good practice to always give footwear a good clean before entering any livestock property, especially if returning from overseas.
If you have been to a country where FMD is present, we ask you not to enter a farm in Australia for at least 7 days.
Please work with custom officials to declare all high risk products and follow their advice. Easiest option is to just not even try to bring animal products from countries where FMD is present into Australia.
If FMD is detected in Australia we will move to enforce stricter rules as to who and how people are allowed onto the property, but hopefully it will not come to this!
For those with animals, early detection enhances the feasibility of the successful eradication of FMD. If you suspect FMD in your animals it is a notifiable exotic disease and any suspected or confirmed cases must be reported immediately to Agriculture Victoria on the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 (24 hours, 7 days a week), to your local Agriculture Victoria Animal Health and Welfare staff or your local private veterinarian.
For more information
The Australian Veterinary Plan or AUSVETPLAN FMD Response
Help us to keep Australia Foot and Mouth disease FREE.