FMD outbreak in Australia would cost wool sector billions and stifle the industry

Kristen Frost
By Kristen Frost
May 10 2022 - 5:00am
HEADS UP: WoolProducers Australia CEO Jo Hall said the impacts of FMD would be severe not just to the wool industry, not just agriculture, but our entire economy.

An outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease would cost the Australian wool industry an estimated loss of over $2.2 billion in revenue alone over a 10-year period.

This is according to Wool Industry Australia (WIA) who, with assistance from Australian Wool Innovation, developed a three-year Emergency Animal Disease (EAD) Preparedness RD&E strategy to help manage the risk if such an outbreak occurred.

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But it is the grave and prolonged social and economic consequences that the virus would incur that would virtually stifle the industry.

And wool voices are warning recent neighbouring outbreaks are revealing how exposed Australia could be if there was a biosecurity issue here.

China's ban of wool exports from South Africa last month due to an outbreak of FMD and the more recent breakout of more than 1200 cases confirmed in Indonesian cattle has alarm bells ringing for the entire agricultural sector.

The outbreak in South Africa, in three provinces, was caused by illegal movements of animals out of the FMD controlled zones in Limpopo.

In turn, China banned the imports of all cloven-hoofed animals and their products from the country.

And although South Africa returned to trade last week, China is still not accepting its product.

This wasn't the first time China enforced a similar ban.

In 2019 China carried-out an eight-month restriction, heavily impacting the country's wool industry, which like Australia, exports the majority of its products to China.

WoolProducers Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jo Hall said the industry only needs to look at the suspension of trade and subsequent halting of wool auctions in South Africa to begin to understand the devastating impacts that an FMD outbreak would have on our industry.

"The impacts of FMD would be severe not just to the wool industry, not just to agriculture, but to our entire economy," Ms Hall said.

"If there was FMD detected and confirmed there would be immediate 72 hour standstill of all susceptible livestock and livestock products, including wool.

"Trucks would be pulled over, turned around or directed to the closest authorised destination as directed by government authorities.

"Everything stops, including wool sales. And it would be months before our trading partners would even consider taking our product again."

She said currently, Australia's export health certificates are declared 'FMD Free' - which is a major component of our trade protocols.

All trade protocols would have to be renegotiated, which could take months depending on the date of Australia's proof of freedom being declared. Trading would have to be satisfied with our response and eradication methods before trade would resume.

For the first 72 hours, during the standstill the government would conduct tracing exercises and attempt to map the spread of the disease.

If they needed to extend that 72 hour stoppage, they would. For instance if the outbreak was bigger than first thought.

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The government would make announcements to Australia's trade partners, and work with industry with the goal of 'stamping out' FMD.

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Ms Hall said that for susceptible livestock industries, infected animals would be euthanised, with compensation paid to producers as part of the response, however wool would not necessarily be destroyed as it can be decontaminated.

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"Wool is a non-perishable product that can be treated, and eventually the wool would be able to be offloaded at some stage, but it would be at least a number of months and cash flow would be hit severely," she said.

According to Ms Hall the incoming government must commit to a sustainable funding mechanism for our national biosecurity system.

"We must have in place adequate and ongoing funding for biosecurity, rather than ad-hoc announcements for something so important," Ms Hall said.

"Regardless of who is leading the country, we need to commit to having adequate funds to ensure that Australia remains a clean, green, safe and food secure country."

"The risk profile is changing because geographically FMD is getting closer to our shores, while as producers we don't need to panic, we definitely need to be aware of the increasing risks".

"The fact that Indonesia has been free of it since the mid 80's brings to light the real and current threat.

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"It is a big wake-up call to Australian producers to be vigilant, starting with their own on-farm biosecurity."

In the event of any type of animal disease incursion, Ms Hall stressed early detection is the best way to try and stamp those diseases out.

If you suspect any animal disease incursion or notice anything, use the emergency animal disease hotline on 1800 675 888 or visit www.farmbiossecurity.com

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Kristen Frost

Kristen Frost

National Sheep and Wool Writer

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