As Foot and Mouth Disease continues to spread across Indonesia, authorities in Australia are not taking any chances when it comes to bio-security. The federal government has launched a screening and prevention campaign to hopefully stop the disease from entering the country.
According to widespread reports, if Food and Mouth Disease enters Australia the potential economic losses are over AUD 80 billion. It would devastate the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and agricultural workers and could result in the culling of hundreds of thousands of cattle.
The Australian government has launched a multi-million dollar package that aims to prevent the disease from arriving in the land down under. Concerns are growing that the disease could wipe out parts of the agricultural sector. The package is set to include AUD 14 million to help prevent the spread. The government is working to help cut the disease off at the source.
Over AUD 5 million is being sent to Indonesia, Timor Leste, and Papua New Guinea, along with technical assistance and specialist epidemiological support to help curb the spread of the disease. Veterinary teams from Australia are already working on the ground in Bali and around Indonesia to help local teams get a firmer grip on the situation.
According to Australia’s 7News Sunrise, there will be an additional AUD 9 million spent on funding 18 new biosecurity officers who will be stationed at Australia’s international airports and mail distribution centers. There have been sniffer detector dogs deployed at Cairns and Darwin. Bio-security measures in ports and livestock transition points are always exceptionally tight, and officers in these sectors are also operating on high alert.
The package also includes funding for a new coordinator to be stationed in Northern Australia to ‘surveillance and preparedness strategies across the region’. Australia’s Agricultural Minister Murray Watt has issued warnings that the situation must be taken seriously.
He said ‘We need the traveling public to take this seriously…if foot and mouth disease gets into our country it will be a devastating blow for our agricultural industry, particularly our livestock industry. While there is a lot of attention on the traveling public coming back from Indonesia…the highest-risk way of the foot and mouth disease coming back into our country is through animal products, meat products, and dairy products’.
The Premier for New South Wales, Dominic Perrottet says that the government needs to find the balance between enforcing travel restrictions and protecting the country’s farming sector.
He said ‘We need to make sure we act quickly and err on the side of caution because the devastating impact that can have, particularly on our agricultural providers in rural and regional NSW, is significant…I know that state ministers are working very closely with the Commonwealth government to achieve an outcome that protects our farmers and at the same time balances the opportunity of open borders’.
Part of the increased screening process is traveler profiling. Travelers returning to Australia from Bali, and elsewhere in Indonesia, will be required to go through a risk-profiling screening. Minister Watt explained how the new processing will help catch any potentially contaminated materials.
‘If any of those passengers match the risk profile … then those passengers are screened and go through … being questioned, having shoes cleaned, having luggage examined, having detector dogs…If anyone does come back in the country and declare that they have had contact with a dam or livestock, or have got grains or meat products or any of the usual things that you have to declare, then those passengers are screened as well’.
Minister Watt has recently returned from Jakarta where he met with Indonesian Minster Syahrul Yasin Limpo who was on board with the shared responsibility plans they laid out.
Though the Australian Airports have increased staffing due to the new screening processes travelers should prepare for a slightly longer process of getting through customs than usual.
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