Foot and mouth disease, which threatens to destroy the national livestock industry, has been detected in goods coming into Australia for the first time, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has revealed.
Senator Watt said on Wednesday that viral traces of FMD and African swine fever had been detected on pork products for sale in the Melbourne CBD.
In another case, traces of FMD were found on a beef product brought into the country by a traveller from Indonesia.
Neither disease has previously been detected in Australia.
Indonesia has been grappling with the spread of FMD, after it was recently detected in Bali, a popular holiday destination for Australians.
The disease affects cloven-hooved animals but poses no risk to humans. FMD can be carried on animal products, including meat and leather, and people can carry it on their shoes, clothes or in their noses, where it can survive for up to 24 hours.
If allowed to spread in Australia, it is feared the disease would cause an $80 billion hit to the economy over 10 years.
African swine fever is a contagious viral disease of domestic and wild pigs that is widespread in Asia and parts of Europe. It has no vaccine and kills about 80 per cent of the pigs it infects, although it also poses no risk to humans.
“I am advised that all products now of this kind have been seized
from all linked supermarkets, and a warehouse in Melbourne as well,” Senator Watt said.
“At one level, these detections are very disturbing – that we see the viral fragments, not live virus but viral fragments, coming in via product. At another level, these detections show that our borders are strong and our bio security systems are working.”
Senator Watt said Australia remained FMD-free, thanks to the recent detections.
He has also announced the rollout of sanitation mats at Australia’s international airports to help stop foot and mouth disease spreading here. He said they would add another layer of defence against an outbreak.
But Australians returning from the region should still clean their shoes and clothing, or leave their footwear overseas if possible, he said.
“There is no biosecurity silver bullet,” Senator Watt said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Our biosecurity controls rely on a multilayered approach to mitigate the risk of FMD.”
The mats will be rolled out this week, starting at Darwin and Cairns airports.
They were intended as a physical reminder to travellers about the risk of the disease, Senator Watt said.
Travellers arriving in Australia from Indonesia will be asked to walk across the mats to sanitise their shoes.
The mats contain a citric acid solution, designed to dislodge any dirt from the sole of the shoe and cover it in the acid.
Other biosecurity measures include passenger declarations, profiling of all travellers entering from Indonesia, real-time risk assessments, questioning and shoe cleaning.
A $14 million biosecurity package was announced by the government last week for more frontline defences in airports and mail centres as well as support for Indonesia and neighbouring countries to combat the spread.
Senator Watt is also soon to meet his state and territory counterparts for the first joint meeting in eight months to discuss further measures.