Foot-and-mouth disease could still be spreading in Bali’s livestock, despite no recorded cases
By ABC’s correspondent in Indonesia anne barker and Phil Hemingway in bali
Experts have cast doubt on claims by Indonesian officials that they have not recorded a single case of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) among Bali‘s cattle population for weeks.
Bali‘s agriculture and food safety office says the island has been free of foot-and-mouth disease for nearly two months.
The last officially reported case in Bali dates back to August 1.
But the ABC has seen and filmed cattle showing clear signs of foot-and-mouth disease this month in separate areas of Bali.
Farmers have reported cattle showing symptoms consistent with the disease, including foaming at the mouth, poor appetite and swollen feet.
And Denpasar officials also confirmed to the ABC that more than 60 cattle were culled in the first week of September due to the disease.
A senior agriculture official said Bali culled 556 cows with foot-and-mouth disease in July, quickly cleared a small cluster of cases in Denpasar in August and now had zero cases.
But an Indonesian virologist, who did not wish to be named, says he strongly doubts claims that Bali is free of the disease.
And an Australian vet said it was not possible to eliminate foot-and-mouth disease as quickly as Indonesian officials claimed.
“I think it’s the second most well-known infectious disease in science,” said Ross Ainsworth, a veterinarian who previously worked in the live cattle trade in Australia for decades and now spends a lot of time in Bali. .
“Government policy here is not to talk about the disease and hope it will go away somehow.
“It’s so contagious that it will be here and it will be here for a long time.”
Bali also appears to be under pressure to stamp out the disease before the island hosts world leaders for the annual G20 summit in mid-November.
‘We have no cases. We really have no cases’
During a recent trip to Bali, the ABC recorded footage of cows in the northwest and east of the island showing symptoms consistent with foot-and-mouth disease.
However, many owners are unable to confirm an FMD diagnosis or arrange treatment because they cannot afford it.
In Jembrana, in northwest Bali, farmer Ketut Denio’s cattle are foaming at the mouth.
Thick white drooling is a typical symptom of the highly contagious and potentially devastating disease.
But for livestock farmers like Denio, euthanasia or even treatment by a veterinarian is too expensive.
“The vet just looked at a cow and gave her an injection because we had to pay for it ourselves,” he told the ABC.
Across the road, another small herd shows similar signs of the disease: drooling, lack of appetite and sore feet.
Farmer I Wayan Wilantara feared his only cow would die.
But with no money to pay a vet, he administered an herbal mixture of turmeric and honey, and betadine to sterilize the mouth.
“If I had to call the vet for three cows, it would cost me [$A15],” he said.
Despite the symptoms, local officials insist the Jembrana cows are suffering from another unknown disease.
“We don’t have any cases. We really don’t have any cases,” said I Wayan Sunada, head of Bali’s agriculture and food security bureau.
“I’m sure. I’m sure.
Ainsworth said there were other ailments that could cause symptoms such as foaming from the mouth.
“Alternative causes may include poisoning, oral foreign bodies, gum or tongue infection, ingestion of irritating chemicals,” he said.
But these diseases are usually not associated with lesions on the feet.
“It is very easy to differentiate by inspection of the tongue and hard palate the blisters [or] foot ulcers and lesions and history of local foot and mouth disease and vaccination history,” he said.
The ABC also saw and filmed more cattle with foaming mouths and lesions on their feet in Karangasem, east Bali.
Karangasem was one of several areas where foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed in June and July this year, after authorities first detected it in Bali.
More than 60 cattle were also slaughtered in Denpasar in early September, with authorities confirming it was because of the disease.
Yet no cases in Bali have been officially reported to a national foot-and-mouth disease task force since August 1.
“If it was in Australia, it would be a cover-up”
The foot-and-mouth outbreak has hit the island of Bali just months before it is due to host world leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, for the annual G20 meeting.
Agriculture officials have confirmed that a senior Indonesian minister, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, gave a directive in late August for Bali to reach “zero cases” before the summit begins in November.
“Luhut told us that Bali must be safe, that there must be no cases of foot-and-mouth disease,” said I Wayan Sudana.
“We are working very hard to protect Bali.”
In August, Minister Luhut asked the authorities on the island to take measures to control the movement of livestock in and out of Bali, in order to prevent any smuggling of livestock overland or via harbors.
“Don’t let Bali become a dangerous place that cannot be visited,” he said.
How serious is the foot-and-mouth disease situation in Indonesia?
The first outbreak of this highly contagious disease in Indonesia in 32 years has caused great concern in Australia, which has been free of foot-and-mouth disease since 1872.
New Zealand border authorities were also put on alert with the announcement of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia. Last month, the Department of Primary Industries said that if an outbreak was confirmed in New Zealand, a government-wide response would be triggered and all infected animals would be killed.
Despite his fears that cases are still going undetected in Indonesia, Ainsworth praised the speed with which authorities in Bali are dealing with the disease, acknowledging that officials there are vaccinating livestock faster than in virtually any other Indonesian province.
The number of cases in Bali is undoubtedly low, given that its entire herd numbers fewer than 600,000 animals, scattered across small family farms.
Families usually own only one or two cattle each as an investment.
Since this week, around 270,000 animals – almost half of the herd – have received at least one of the two recommended doses of the vaccine.
Australia has supplied 1 million vaccines to Indonesia, most of which the ABC says are already being rolled out to Bali and islands further east where the disease is also spreading.
The islands of Sumba and Sumbawa are now classified as “red zones”.
But national figures suggest that seven other provinces have also returned to zero cases, having previously reported cases of foot-and-mouth disease.
Despite initial fears the disease could reach Australia for the first time in 150 years, Ross Ainsworth believes the threat of the disease spreading from Bali is now far lower than it was.
“I was initially extremely worried about this disease reaching Australia. I thought maybe it was a 50-50 chance,” he said.
“But now those two things have changed. I think the threat is much lower.”
Indonesia successfully eradicated an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the 1980s, largely through vaccination.
Ainsworth said it’s possible that at least Bali, if not other provinces, could do it again.
“It was eradicated many years ago with vaccinations only. So maybe it’s possible,” he said.