Stephanie Sinclair, Daniel Fitzgerald and Amy Phillips – The Australian government has offered Indonesia financial support to secure a vaccine to contain an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
While Indonesia is yet to officially declare the outbreak with the World Organisation for Animal Health, more than 2,000 head of cattle are understood to be infected in provinces across North Sumatra and East Java.
The highly contagious disease, which is not yet present in Australia, is believed to have spread from Malaysia and marks the first FMD incursion in Indonesia since 1986.
The offer comes as government officials and the livestock sector work to safeguard Australia's FMD-free status and maintain access to global export markets.
In a statement released on Monday, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment confirmed it had been advised of the outbreak and was offering assistance to Indonesia to combat and contain the outbreak.
"In response to the outbreak in Indonesia, the department has advised livestock industries to be alert, raised awareness at the border, particularly in the north, provided advice to state and territory governments, and liaised with Indonesian counterparts," the statement said.
"Past preparations include [the] establishment of an FMD vaccine bank in 2004 to ensure Australia has access to vaccines should they ever be required to respond to an outbreak.
"The risk to Australia remains low in the absence of close contact between animals or the importation of infected products."
Australia's chief veterinary officer Mark Schipp said Australia was providing financial assistance for the identification and purchase of a suitable FMD vaccine, as well as technical assistance.
While the threat to Australia is considered low, Dr Schipp said the spread of FMD to Indonesia had increased the chances of an incursion.
"We estimated two years ago that the risk was 9 per cent within the next five years," he said.
"I would expect that that risk would have at least doubled given the proximity of Indonesia, the trade that we have with Indonesia in sending live cattle up there, and the risk of returning stockmen and travellers from Indonesia."
Industry alert, but not alarmed
The outbreak in Indonesia has put livestock producers and industry representatives on alert, with a multi-billion dollar fallout expected if FMD was to be detected in Australia.
Modelling by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) in 2013 determined that a large outbreak of FMD in Australia would cost Australia more than $50 billion, but the Cattle Council predicts that figure could now be $100 billion.Cattle Council of Australia president Markus Rathsmann said the reports of FMD in Indonesia were a "wake-up call" for the industry and biosecurity authorities. "It's also a case of being alert, not alarmed," he said.
"We certainly have to be vigilant and have to make sure our systems are prepared for an incursion. We do have to remember that FMD is present in most South-East Asian countries.
"Australia helped Indonesia to eradicate FMD in the past, and as we are doing with lumpy skin disease. I'm sure the Australian government will assist the Indonesian government eradicate it again."
The spread of Foot and Mouth Disease to Indonesia comes at a time when the country is grappling with a lumpy skin disease outbreak.
The pork industry has also been dealing with a major biosecurity threat, following an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in eastern Australia this year.
The head vet of Queensland pork supplier, Sunpork, Kirsty Richards said Australia's experience dealing with biosecurity threats would put it in a strong position to protect the industry from FMD.
"We've not only had the preparedness piece going for some years, but we're living it at the moment in terms of response," she said. "It's a concern, but I think we're in a good position if something was to happen."