The Aussie state where devastating disease will likely hit first

·News Reporter
·3-min read

As Australia teeters on the brink of a foot and mouth outbreak, experts have named the state most likely to fall first to the devastating disease.

The highly transmissible threat to livestock, including cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, has the entire agriculture industry on tenterhooks, with fears the country’s love affair with Bali could spell disaster at home.

Known as the most popular international destination for Western Australians, there are now very real concerns that a single West Aussie traveller could bring the disease back with them from Bali.

“The reason is just the amount of travel between Western Australia and Indonesia, particularly to Bali, and the relatively short flight distance between them and the volume of travellers,” Professor Archie Clements, Epidemiologist at Curtin University’s School of Population Health, told Yahoo News Australia.

“Western Australia is the nearest large state to Indonesia. Clearly the Northern Territory is closer but that [has a] much smaller population.”

A diseased cow is inspected by two people (left) and a close up of a cow's mouth (right).
Foot and mouth disease has spread rapidly through Indonesia. Source: AAP

Disease to spread ‘fairly quickly’ through WA

While experts believe it is only a matter of time until the first Australian case of foot and mouth disease is detected, most likely in WA, Professor Clements warns it could move rapidly once in the state.

“If it got into the south where we've got much more dense livestock farming, then it will probably spread more quickly,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be explosive like in the UK, because in the UK there’s so much more movement of animals and much higher density of livestock than here, but it still could move fairly quickly.”

“Whereas if it got in the north, and got into our extensive livestock production systems up there, then it may spread more slowly, but it'll be harder to detect and potentially hard to contain.”

A severe economic threat to Australia

If Australian livestock becomes infected, sparking an outbreak of foot and mouth on home soil, Professor Clements warns the consequences could be devastating.

Beyond the costs of implementing public health measures to constrain the disease, including the slaughtering of livestock, introduction of biosecurity measures and inability to trade products, he said there would be a flow on affect to consumers.

“It could impact on food prices which are already high, but if it ended up limiting availability that would push up food prices.

A farmer on a horse with sheep (left) and a group of pigs (right)
Experts believe WA may be the first Aussie state to suffer a foot and mouth outbreak. Source: EPA

“[It could also] potentially restrict the movement of people in rural areas, particularly on livestock premises.

“And then of course, there’s all of the social and wellbeing type consequences, particularly for farmers if they have their livestock being slaughtered, it can be quite distressing.

“You know, farmers putting years and years of work into building their flocks and their herds and then seeing them wiped out overnight can be very distressing.

Government dismisses calls for a Bali boycott

As fears escalate of an Aussie outbreak, there are growing calls for a Bali boycott.

Earlier this week, Queensland LNP Senator Susan McDonald said travel to the tourist hot spot needed to stop immediately in a bid to prevent the disease from entering Australia.

But on Thursday Agriculture Minister Murray Watt, who’s in Indonesia this week to discuss Australian support on the issue, ruled out a ban on flights from Indonesia.

Instead he has pledged $1.5 million to fund vaccinations against foot and mouth disease in Indonesia in an attempt to stop it spreading.

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