Foot-and-mouth disease fears for Australia as Indonesia grapples with outbreak
Holidaymakers returning from Bali are at high risk of accidentally bringing back a serious animal disease that could devastate Australia’s livestock industries, a veterinarian has said.
- Cattle industry says foot-and-mouth outbreak in Australia could cost industry $100 billion
- Goats smuggled from Malaysia believed to be behind Indonesian outbreak
- Veterinarian says flights from Bali to Darwin pose greatest risk of spreading infection
Indonesia is facing an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which affects cattle, sheep, pigs and goats.
Thousands of cattle are thought to be infected in East Java and Aceh provinces, but the disease – one of the worst affecting animals – may have already spread.
The outbreak occurred during Lebaran, a national holiday when many Indonesians travel across the country.
Ross Ainsworth has worked as a veterinarian in northern Australia for decades and is currently based in Bali.
“During the national holidays last week, there were a large number of people from Surabaya and other parts of Java who drove their cars here,” he said.
Dr Ainsworth said if foot-and-mouth disease was discovered in Bali, the risk of Australian tourists encountering infected animals was very high.
“It would be very easy for tourists to encounter livestock and it is possible for tourists to get infected just by walking around tourist areas,” he said.
“If they then come home with infected material, say saliva on their shoes, then they risk the disease entering Australia, so that’s pretty scary.”
Fear of the “foot-and-mouth highway”
An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Australia could cost the livestock industry $100 billion, according to the Cattle Council.
Dr Ainsworth believes flights from Bali to Darwin last month pose the greatest risk because foot and mouth disease can only survive outside of an animal host for a short time and the journey only takes around three hours.
Direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin and Perth to Denpasar all returned recently for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Veteran meat industry analyst Simon Quilty agreed that if Australian tourism to Bali returns to its pre-COVID average of 1.3 million people a year, the risk of Australian tourists bringing the disease back was serious.
“We don’t want an FMD highway created here between our major airports and Bali,” he said.
Bali has about 2.5 million head of cattle and 900,000 pigs.
Mr Quilty said infected pigs were of particular concern.
“Pigs…produce millions of spores that basically spread the virus and they become virus factories,” he said.
Foot-and-mouth disease is thought to have entered Indonesia via goats smuggled in from Malaysia.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s meat price index hit a record high in April after climbing 16% in the past 12 months.
“With that comes desperation,” Mr Quilty said.
“There is no doubt that there were sick animals in a neighboring country – at this stage it appears to be Malaysia – which were obviously sold at a discounted market. [where people are] desperate for cheaper protein.
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