The Impact Foot & Mouth Disease Would Have On Australia

by | Aug 5, 2022

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease affecting cloven-hoofed animals, including pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and deer. It causes mouth sores, fever, lameness and death.

The name “foot-and-mouth” refers to the hooves of affected animals. The disease is named after the village of ‘Foote’ near Salisbury, England, where the first outbreak was reported in 1883.

An animal suffering from FMD usually dies within 24 hours of onset of clinical signs, although some recover. Infection occurs via close physical contact with an infected animal, contaminated fomites, aerosol transmission or ingestion of food or drink contaminated with saliva or nasal secretions.

Infectiousness lasts up to five days post-exposure.

How Can FMD Be Spread?

FMD can be spread through contact between infected animals and can be carried by animal products, equipment, humans, clothing or the air. This disease can cause significant economic losses due to loss of livestock production and trade restrictions. In addition, it causes great suffering to affected individuals and their families. Control measures are implemented in countries where outbreaks occur to prevent further spread.

The most important control measure is preventing infection in the first place. To do this, farmers must maintain good biosecurity practices including proper hygiene, vaccination, quarantine and disinfection. They also must make sure that animals are healthy and well fed. Farmers should avoid mixing different types of cattle in one herd and ensure that sick animals are isolated.

Infected animals should be destroyed immediately. If possible, carcasses should be incinerated rather than buried because burying meat increases the risk of contamination spreading. Meat should be cooked thoroughly before eating. People handling raw meat or milk should wash hands frequently with soap and water.

How Does FMD Affect Animals?

The characteristic signs in FMD infected animals are blisters. These are apparent in the mouth and hooves of infected animals – especially in the soft tissues immediately above the hoof and between the two toes forming the hoof.

Rupture of these blisters produces ulcers. These are very painful: animals usually lie down and refuse to move around. They may even try to lick the wound themselves. If you see an animal displaying these symptoms, please call the FMD hotline.

Why FMD Is So Hard To Control

There are three main types of FMD: A, B and O. Type A is endemic in most parts of the world and causes outbreaks every few years. Types B and O are considered exotic and occur sporadically.

FMD is classified into seven different serotypes based on the antigenic properties of the viral capsid proteins. Each type of virus belongs to a specific serotype. For example, there are five different serotypes of type A, each of which is named according to the location where it was originally identified.

Infection is very difficult to control, large vaccine rollouts are one of our best defense mechanisms. But as you can imagine, keeping all livestock consistently vaccinated against the dozen different strands of FMD is very difficult and even more expensive.

Because of the high level of contagion, FMD poses a major threat to global food security and to the livelihoods of farmers around the globe.

Since 1996, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), together with its member states, has been monitoring the situation daily and issuing alerts and recommendations regarding the potential risk posed by FMD.

Impact Of Foot & Mouth Disease In Australia

A Productivity Commission Research Report examines the likely impacts of foot and mouth disease (FMD) on the Australian agriculture sector, rural and regional areas, and the national economy. It provides estimates of the costs associated with each scenario, including the financial cost of eradication measures, the loss of production due to culling, the reduction in farm income, the number of jobs lost, and the effect on trade.

A major state isolated outbreak could cost Australia over $9 billion in lost export earnings over an eight-year period. Such an outbreak could reduce Australia’s Gross Domestic Product by between $8 billion and $13 billion.

Queensland would suffer the largest losses, but ultimately all regions dependent on the livestock industry would be terribly impacted. The logistical and quarantine costs of managing the livestock would cost between $30 million to $450 million dependent on the time it took to control the outbreak. From a producer’s perspective, this hurts their livelihood, jobs, communities, and businesses. From a consumer’s perspective purchasing meat will become very difficult or at the very least extremely costly.

In addition, we’d likely see trade bans and tourism restrictions. The Australian Department of Agriculture has more aggressive projections for a large multi-state outbreak of FMD with estimated revenue losses of between $49.3 billion and $51.8 billion over a 10-year period. 99% of these costs are the direct economic costs associated with the livestock, export, and food production industries. The other 1% cost is associated with the costs of disease control.

The impact of FMD would be devastating, it is of critical importance that we work as a nation to protect our livestock and keep FMD offshore. Our biosecurity measures will be the key, particularly around imports or smuggled goods. The Australian Government is fully committed to protecting Australia’s food supply chain and is investing up to 14 million in supporting bordering countries in their battle with FMD.

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Stay safe,

The SGA Team.

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