Rising risk of FMD highlighted at saleyard conference

Terry Sim, August 25, 2023

Victoria’s chief veterinary officer Graeme Cooke at the ALSA conference in Bendigo.

THE increasing longer term global risk and ‘inevitability’ of Foot and Mouth Disease reaching Australia was highlighted to saleyard managers at a conference in Bendigo yesterday.

Victorian chief veterinary officer Graeme Cooke said he had bad and good news for the delegates at the Australian Livestock Saleyards Association conference, describing a more threatening situation globally.

The bad news is that feared emergency animal diseases like Foot and Mouth Disease, Lumpy Skin Disease, African Swine Fever and Avian Influenza “are increasing in risk globally,” he said.

“What Australia is seeing to our north is essentially a symptom of that.

“The bad news also, and I’ve had to deal with foot and mouth twice in my career, is these are feared diseases because they are not easy to get rid of; there is no real magical solution, you just have to get on and do it.”

Likening an EAD incursion to a very tough football match he said the good news is also that Australia, and especially Victoria, were “very much more match fit.”

Dr Cooke said the saleyard manager and digital service industry delegates were strategic assets in an EAD outbreak. He said plenty of countries with developed economies, and good veterinary and border systems have had FMD, including the United Kingdom, and saleyards were central to the outbreaks, with normal trading seeding the disease’s spread.

“And this is Australia’s problem and Victoria’s problem.”

He felt particularly lucky to be Victoria’s CVO because of his team, along with electronic livestock traceability in sheep, providing the ready intelligence to act quickly, which was unusual.

Dr Cooke said the global risk of an EAD outbreak is increasing globally because when the world goes into a global cost of living crisis the potential for illegal movements is much higher.

Climate variability is also affecting the way the diseases are spreading. The effects of social and economic migration and the breakdown of borders were also factors. He said there has been a 30pc increase in container traffic into Australia in the last four years.

Dr Cooke said Indonesia has announced that it does not expect to get rid of FMD for about 13 years – 2035 — lengthening the period of risk to Australia’s north “for quite some time.”

Despite describing the increased global risk, Dr Cooke recited the June 2022 structured expert judgment by the Centre for Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis of a 56 percent combined estimated probability of a major EAD occurring in Australia by 2027.

Dr Cooke said Victoria’s density and variety of agriculture, and the number of movements from saleyards, lent itself to the rapid spread of an EAD should there be an incursion.

He said Australia was moving to a space where the level of risk of an EAD outbreak was “plausible to probable”, rather than being a ‘black swan’ event.

“So we have to be prepared.”

Dr Cooke said there had seen no decrease in interest across the industry and government in getting prepared for an EAD incursion, despite a Roy Morgan poll indicating a halving of concern among farmers about biosecurity in the past year.

He said his key message was that Australia was now so much better prepared for an EAD incursion.

“But we don’t want to get it.”

Dr Cooke outlined the various federal and Victorian biosecurity measures being taken to lift preparedness for an EAD outbreak and described what would happen in the first 72 hours after the confirmation of a Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in Australia.

In a later statement, Dr Cooke said a range of factors means the risk to Australia from a range of emergency animal diseases will remain high.

“That is why it is right for both government and industry to put a large effort now into preparedness for possible outbreaks of such diseases.

“Preparing for a possible emergency animal disease detection is the number one priority for Agriculture Victoria,” he said.

“Victoria manages biosecurity threats with regular preparation and scenario-based work carried out by Agriculture Victoria, including examining the very significant needs if there were an emergency animal disease outbreak.”



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