GOVERNMENT and industry leaders have taken what they describe as positive steps to protect Australia from possibly the biggest single threat to the nation's livestock industry, foot and mouth disease.
Participants at a meeting of the National FMD Stakeholder Forum in Sydney yesterday agreed collaborative government and industry action and investment must be ongoing to ensure Australia was adequately armed against this disease.
Australia's chief veterinary officer Dr Mark Schipp said the collaborative work being undertaken to achieve long-term enhancement of Australia's preparedness and capacity to respond to an FMD outbreak was a positive move towards protecting the Australian economy from an outbreak.
"The FMD Forum, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), marks the first time we have seen a truly national approach to addressing the threat of FMD," he said.
"Last year, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) estimated that an outbreak of FMD could cost the Australian economy billions of dollars.
"Over a ten-year period following an outbreak there would be severe direct economic losses to the livestock and meat processing sector. These losses ranged from $7.1 billion for a small three month outbreak, to $16.0 billion for a large 12 month outbreak (expressed in current dollar terms).
"It was only a decade ago that an outbreak of FMD in the United Kingdom cost their economy the equivalent of AUD$19 billion, and it was only last year that South Korea experienced multi-billion dollar losses from this disease."
Dr Schipp said a number of FMD preparedness issues required comprehensive national coordination as they related to on-shore (post-border) activity where the responsibilities of the Australian Government, states and territories, and industry require a team approach to be effective.
Stakeholders progressed issues relating to the potential use vaccination, strengthening emergency response capacities, and the use of scanning and strategic intelligence to provide early warning.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand said FMD does not present any threat to consumer health or food safety, and there was no reason for people to alter their consumption if there was an outbreak of FMD in Australia.
"The last thing the country needs in an FMD outbreak is for people to stop eating meat and other animal products because of misperceptions about their safety," Dr Schipp said.
Attendees also agreed on the value of developing industry business continuity plans for FMD, and the importance of having contemporary traceability arrangements across all sectors that meet the national need to quickly and accurately trace livestock movements in an emergency situation.
Dr Schipp said the agreement, especially around swiftly implementing a vaccination campaign if needed, would ensure Australia was better prepared for the threat of FMD.