Australia faces biggest biosecurity threat

·3-min read

Australia is facing the "greatest biosecurity threat to animal agriculture" that it has seen in decades, according to the country's chief vet.

The warning from Dr Mark Schipp follows the re-emergence of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in Indonesia in the past week, as well as the detection of lumpy skin disease in March and African swine fever before that.

"The incursion of three of those diseases of concern into Indonesia in the past two or three years is of very significant concern," Dr Schipp said.

The chief vet told AAP that the risk of FMD entering Australia has likely doubled from nine per cent as a result of the outbreak, with an assessment to be carried out over the next few weeks.

"It reflects the substantial change in our biosecurity situation, we had Indonesia, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea as a disease free buffer ... but we're losing that buffer," he said.

Dr Schipp said all of the diseases are now present in Indonesia with some cases spreading across the region.

"We know if we had a foot and mouth disease outbreak in Australia it would be very difficult to respond to ... and the trade impacts on Australia's livestock and loss of product exports would be absolutely immense," he told AAP.

Dr Schipp said the current vaccination program tackling lumpy skin disease in Indonesia "does not seem to be effective" in stopping the disease spreading.

He spoke to AAP during a trip to Darwin where he has been meeting with the chief vets from across Australia to discuss the "increased biosecurity threat" across Northern Australia.

"Foot and mouth disease ... would have absolutely devastating consequences for animal agriculture in Australia," Dr Schipp said.

Indonesia, which had been free of FMD for more than three decades, has recorded outbreaks in East Java and Sumatra, with more than a thousand cattle involved in each location.

Dr Schipp said there is the potential for the disease to spread further given the "enormous" numbers of cattle in those areas, and an ongoing shortage of vets in some regional parts of Australia poses a threat to biosecurity.

"A delay in detection will mean that the outbreak will be far larger and require much greater resources to respond to," he said.

Dr Schipp said an additional $400 million had been requested and granted last year, and they will request extra resources when needed.

"There's rarely enough money for all the things we would like to do but we've got more money than we had two years ago and we're making good use of that," he said.

"Both the minister and the shadow spokesperson...both of them have agreed if we need additional resources at this time they'll be immediately provided."

The National Farmers' Federation said if FMD spread to Australia it would cost agricultural and regional communities around $65 billion.

"Now we have diseases on our doorstep it's critical, it's almost like another Ruby Princess moment for agriculture and Australia ... when one of these diseases hits our shores," NFF president Fiona Simson told AAP.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the coalition had committed $66.6 million in 2019 in response to the global spread of African swine fever, with an additional $58.6 million to continue the work.

He said an extra $20 million has been committed for producers to boost farm biosecurity and traceability.

The coalition will invest more than $61 million on northern biosecurity if re-elected with a focus on lumpy skin disease.

"I will take my advice from the chief veterinary office as the foot and month disease situation evolves, we stand ready to assist Indonesia manage this outbreak and to work with state and territory governments and industry to prevent and prepare for this disease," Mr Littleproud said.

"If the science and the advice says more funds are required, we will step up."

Labor released its agricultural policy on Thursday which criticised the Morrison government for under-resourcing the "vital biosecurity system", and promised to improve Australia's biosecurity capabilities. There was no dollar amount attached to the pledge.

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