Preparation is the key to guarding Australia's primary industries against the significant threat of disease outbreaks such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).
Knowing what to look for in livestock and what to do if there was an outbreak of FMD was the focus of a gathering of graziers at Rokewood last week for a Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) run workshop that focused on a raft of industry-wide issues.
Farmers heard that while FMD affects significant proportions of Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia, it has not been recorded in Australia's recent history.
However, an outbreak was not beyond the realms of possibility, the VFF warned, and all livestock managers needed to be fully briefed in a 'preparation is the best form of education' focus.
"Australia's borders aren't impenetrable," VFF Livestock president Ian Feldtmann said.
"Should FMD enter Australia, it could cause about $16 billion worth of damage.
"Our export markets would be shut down – a huge blow to the industry given we export more than half of all the sheep meat and beef we produce.
"It would take significant time and effort to re-enter international trade once we got over any FMD incursion.
"It's likely even our tourism industry would be affected, which is what happened in the UK in 2001."
Farmers heard that six million animals were slaughtered during the UK outbreak, the impact of which was estimated at $19b.
Mr Feldtmann said while the Victorian Department of Primary Industries had a role in managing emergency disease outbreaks, individual farmers were on the front line and played a major part.
"The better prepared each farmer is, the more chance we will have of controlling an FMD outbreak should it reach our shores," he said.
Mr Feldtmann said simple things, such as knowing what symptoms to be suspicious of and knowing who to call should an outbreak be suspected, could make billions of dollars of difference to the final outcome.
"FMD is one of the biggest risks to the sheep and beef industries and all farmers need to play their part in managing it," he said.
Things to look out for in animals include sudden severe lameness and a tendency for livestock to lie down, blisters, and fever.
Farmers at Rokewood heard the best thing they could do if they even suspected they might be subject to an outbreak was to report it quickly.
"It's better to be responsible than to assume what you're looking at will be all right," VFF liaison officer Zoe Moroz said.
The options for nation-wide management would then include the possibility of vaccinating for containment.
"If there was an outbreak there would be trade barriers, and we would take a long time to come back into the market and meet World Organisation of Animal Health Trade standards," she said.
"But if every farmer knows about this disease, then we are in a much better place to react there be an outbreak."
Western District farmer Ashley McErvale attended last month's farm business security workshop on sheep health, disease management and industrial relations at Beaufort.
He said the workshops were an important step in increasing professionalism in the industry.
"It was particularly useful to get updates on OH&S and industrial relations … you don't hear speakers on that every day.
"Farming has got a bit of catching up to do with other industries in some respects.
We're very professional with what we do, but there are aspects that we can improve on," he said.
Back to News Headlines