Sheep and goats, plus international backpacker labour, are two possible chinks in Australia's armour as far as its ability to prevent and manage foot and mouth disease goes, according to a western Queensland Biosecurity Queensland representative.
Blackall-based Dan Burton addressed sheep, goat and cattle breeders at animal health days conducted around western Queensland.
Responding to the interest shown by producers in Australia's biosecurity preparedness, Mr Burton said while many worried that feral pigs would be Australia's undoing in the event of an FMD outbreak, the possibility of the disease's presence in sheep and goats remaining undetected frightened him more.
"Pigs do amplify the disease but there's a lot of mortality in piglets, and they have difficulty walking," he said.
"Sheep and goats are silent carriers, it's not like a cow chomping.
"They get blisters and they might go a bit lame and look a bit depressed, that's all."
Mr Burton travelled to Nepal at the start of the year as part of a multi-national group to familiarise himself with the devastating disease.
"Getting up close with the big fella", as he described the chilling experience to his audience, is what has driven his desire to share the importance of getting factual information out to Queensland primary producers.
This included the emergency animal disease watch hotline number, 1800 675 888, manned round the clock, which he urged people to put in their phones so they could speak with a veterinarian while they were in the paddock if they had that ability.
"We would have to jump quickly to get on top of this disease," he said.
As far as returning to Australia after visiting Nepal, Mr Burton outlined the self-quarantine procedures he followed, adding that he'd been at the airport with a backpacker who was flying to Melbourne at the same time he was travelling home, with the intention of finding an on-farm job.
"I think you should ask a lot of questions of the labour you employ," he said.
He reminded the audience that both African swine fever and FMD had been detected at an Australian airport terminal in February in meat products brought in by international visitors.
Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie last week announced that in the six months to May this year, 23 tonnes of pork had been seized at Australian borders, the equivalent of four pigs arriving in the country every week.
Over 1000 items of pork are intercepted a week at Australian airports and mail centres.
AgForce regional manager Vol Norris, who hosted the information days, said Mr Burton's presentation had been a pretty confronting wake-up call.
Meeting attendees asked about progress on an FMD vaccine and were told that in the case of an outbreak in Australia, proof that the country was disease-free would be needed to get markets back.
That would mean removing the host to suppress the disease as quickly as possible. While people were vaccinating it would technically signal the disease was still present.
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