Fragments of devastating foot and mouth disease found in Aussie city

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Viral fragments of foot and mouth disease and African swine fever have been detected in pork products at a Melbourne retailer.

Australia remains free of the diseases as the live virus was not detected, but Agriculture Minister Murray Watt reiterated the importance of biosecurity measures.

The products, believed to be imported from China, were detected in the Melbourne CBD as part of routine surveillance and have been seized.

It's the first time viral fragments have been detected in a retail setting, Senator Watt said.

"This is not the first time in Australian history that we have picked up foot and mouth disease viral fragments in meat products — it's happened a number of other times in airport settings," he told reporters in Brisbane.

Minister for Agriculture Senator Murray Watt. Source: AAP
Minister for Agriculture, Senator Murray Watt, confirmed pork products with viral fragments of foot and mouth disease and African swine fever have been found in Australia. Source: AAP

"I want to assure people that our systems have worked, we have monitored this, we have undertaken surveillance operations and these products have been found, tested and now seized."

Further investigations about how the products entered Australia was being taken and it was likely prosecutions would occur, Senator Watt said.

"If you do the wrong thing, you will be caught. If you try to bring products into the country without declaring them you will be caught," he said.

"If you try to bring or post products into the country, you will be caught and we will take action."

New prevention measures added to Australian airports

Sanitation mats will be rolled out at international airports in an effort to stop foot and mouth disease entering Australia on traveller's shoes.

It's the latest measure by the federal government to prevent an outbreak of the livestock disease on Australian shores.

Indonesia has been grappling with the spread of the disease which was recently detected in Bali, a popular holiday destination for Australian travellers.

Australia has ramped up biosecurity measures after Indonesia detected foot and mouth disease. Source:
Australia has ramped up biosecurity measures after Indonesia detected foot and mouth disease. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

If allowed to spread in Australia, the disease is predicted to cause an $80 billion hit to the economy over ten years.

Senator Watt said the mats would add another layer of defence against an outbreak.

But Australians returning from the region should still clean their shoes and clothing, or leave their footwear overseas if possible, he said.

"There's no silver bullet when it comes to biosecurity, none of these measures will work on their own," Senator Watt said.

"It is a shared responsibility and again, we do need people to take their share of responsibility."

The mats will be rolled out this week, starting at Darwin and Cairns airports.

Foot and mouth disease has been detected in Bali, prompting concern in Australia. Source: Sipa USA via AAP
Foot and mouth disease has been detected in Bali, prompting concern in Australia. Source: Sipa USA via AAP

They are intended to be a physical reminder to travellers about the risk of the disease, Senator Watt said.

Travellers arriving in Australia from Indonesia will be asked to walk across the mats to sanitise their shoes.

The mats contain a citric acid solution, designed to dislodge any dirt from the sole of the shoe and cover it in the acid.

Other biosecurity measures include passenger declarations, profiling of all travellers entering from Indonesia, real time risk assessments, questioning and shoe cleaning.

A $14 million biosecurity package was announced by the government last week for more frontline defences in airports and mail centres as well as support for Indonesia and neighbouring countries to combat the spread.

Senator Watt is set to meet with his state and territory counterparts for the first joint meeting in eight months to discuss further measures.

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