July 13, 2022
South Burnett Regional Council will write to the Federal Government to request it temporarily suspend all travel to and from countries affected by foot and mouth disease (FMD).
The Council also voted to erect biosecurity warnings about FMD on all entry and exit roads in the region.
The two decisions were made at Wednesday’s Liveability Standing Committee meeting.
Cr Scott Henschen said the highly infectious disease was now in Bali, one of the most popular overseas tourist destinations for Australians.
There has been a push to install “foot dips” at airports for passengers returning from Bali to walk through to prevent the virus being carried into Australia on their shoes.
But Cr Henschen said the FMD virus could also be carried by travellers on their clothes and other personal items.
Australia is currently one of only a handful of countries free of the disease.
Cr Henschen said FMD affected pigs as well as cattle, and warned that with agriculture making up about 71 per cent of the region’s economy, any outbreak could quickly bring the South Burnett to its knees.
He said FMD would not only be a disaster for the region’s livestock producers – who would be forced to cull their herds – but also consumers who would have to deal with a chronic shortage of beef and pork products that would affect supermarkets, cafes and restaurants.
Cr Henchen said he understood Barcaldine and Western Downs Regional Councils had recently moved to ramp up awareness about the risk of FMD in their regions, and urged the South Burnett to do the same.
Mayor Brett Otto suggested Council should also try to organise a meeting with representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the State and Federal Agriculture Ministers’ offices to discuss prevention strategies.
He also suggested holding a meeting in conjunction with BIEDO for local livestock producers.
Councillors accepted all proposals unanimously.
- Related article: Push For Foot Dips At Airports
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The vote by the South Burnett Regional Council coincides with a call by the Shadow Minister for Northern Australia, Senator Susan McDonald, to suspend flights from Bali.
She said outbreak of FMD in Australia would unleash a crisis of “biblical proportions”, costing the nation billions of dollars in management and eradication, not to mention the destruction of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs at a time when food security is a critical issue in the world.
The identification of FMD in Australia would have catastrophic impacts on Australia’s ability to export high-value products into premium markets and would mean devastating financial pain in the agricultural and value-add industry.
Senator McDonald said it was not clear that the Federal Government and industry had responded quickly enough and adequately to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth in Bali, and believes suspending Bali flights should be investigated.
“We saw a swift closing of borders with COVID, and I believe similar measures should be discussed for foot-and-mouth, and if not flight suspensions, then quarantine for returning passengers,” she said.
“Some people will say this is an overreaction and will adversely affect the Indonesian economy, but the devastation of a foot-and-mouth outbreak in Australia would be widespread to not just producers but consumers and taxpayers as well. It is truly difficult to comprehend how bad this would be which is why it is critical that we do not allow FMD into Australia.
“Australian tourists in Bali are walking through cow dung and bringing soiled shoes and suitcase wheels back home but anyone who flew back in the past week could already have brought the disease into Australia,” she said.
“An emergency declaration the moment Indonesian authorities raised the alarm would have been an appropriate response because infected animals could have been carriers for two weeks before showing symptoms.
“More sniffer dogs won’t find the disease on people’s shoes.
“It is disappointing that the introduction of physical measures like flyers and warning announcements on outgoing and incoming flights for people to not bring soiled items back to Australia took four days to be introduced given that we are told that biosecurity enforcement steps had been ‘war-gamed’ in advance.
“After talking to meat industry figures and hearing how worried they are, I believe the Federal Government should immediately canvas suspending Bali flights and consider sending biosecurity and veterinary staff to Bali to administer vaccines, help the Indonesian authorities address the outbreak and ensure the disease does not enter Australia.”
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On Tuesday, Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said he would hold face-to-face talks with his Indonesian counterparts in Jakarta this week.
Minister Watt will be accompanied by senior officials from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, including Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp, along with National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson.
Minister Watt said the two-day visit was the next step in the Federal Government’s effort to combat FMD, building on new biosecurity measures already introduced including extra screening of travellers, luggage and mail, biosecurity detector dogs, more information for travellers and signs in airports.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese offered Indonesia vaccines and technical expertise to assist in its response to FMD during his visit last month.