Foot and mouth viral fragments have been detected at Adelaide airport, sparking more calls to slam borders shut to halt the spread of the potentially devastating animal disease.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the fragments were picked up “in recent days” through airport detection systems, according to a report in the Adelaide Advertiser.
The confirmation prompted the independent federal MP for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, to join calls to shut Australia’s border with Indonesia.
“The electorate of Mayo is one of the food bowls of Australia, and our cattle and dairy farmers are key exporters to international markets,” Ms Sharkie told a regional newspaper, the Victor Harbor Times.
“Following the detection of viral fragments of foot and mouth disease at Adelaide Airport in recent days, the risk of this outbreak spreading to regional Australia is just too great.
“We need to protect our vital livestock industries from this $80 billion threat.”
Adelaide is the second city where viral fragments of the animal disease have been reported this week. On Wednesday, Senator Watt confirmed they were also detected on pork products for sale in the Melbourne CBD.
Ms Sharkie said the discovery was no risk to farmers but had still sparked concern.
“I support the temporary closure of Australia’s border with Indonesia until the outbreak has been brought under control, and the risks have been mitigated,” she said.
Opposition MPs Barnaby Joyce and Karen Andrews have also urged the federal government to move quickly to shut Australia’s border to arrivals from Indonesia.
While Australia remains free of the livestock disease, even after this week’s discoveries, it has been detected in popular tourist destination Bali.
The government must do whatever it took to guarantee foot and mouth disease did not enter Australia, Ms Andrews said.
“Labor needs to be doing much more than it already is to prevent that disease coming into Australia,” she told Sky News on Thursday.
“This is a race and Labor is barely out of the starting blocks.”
But Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said closing a border would be a “very drastic step”.
“We rely on this bilateral trade between the two countries, and I don’t know how you would justify doing that to Indonesia when foot and mouth is endemic in other countries,” she said.
“There would be an economic impact and we want to ensure we keep trade open.
“It’s vital Australians understand what’s at stake, and the need to be hyper-vigilant about what food products they bring back.”
Senator Watt said the border would not close. He slammed the Coalition for “playing politics” with the industry, and said a border closure or banned flights were options the current opposition never implemented while in government.
“We’ve acted as quickly as we possibly can,” he told Sky News.
“As soon as this outbreak got to Bali, I directed my department to start working urgently.”
Senator Watt said there was a “well-established plan” to deal with an outbreak in Australia, but he was confident the disease could be kept out.
“A lot of people aren’t aware … that there are, right now, outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in a range of other countries, whether that be China, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, South Africa,” he said.
“Those countries have had foot and mouth disease for years.”
An immediate three-day standstill on livestock movements would be implemented if the disease were to reach Australia, Senator Watt said.
There would also be a compensation scheme for farmers.
But Senator Watt said his focus was ensured an outbreak never reached Australian shores.
“I feel very confident that Australia’s world-leading biosecurity system stands us in very good stead to resist this outbreak arriving,” he said.
On Wednesday, he announced further biosecurity measures. He has also urged travellers to take responsibility, clean their shoes and declare meat products when arriving in Australia.
Sanitation mats are being deployed at international airports for travellers from Indonesia to walk over to help stop the disease entering Australia on their shoes.
Meanwhile, the development of a national, mandatory sheep and goat electronic identification system was agreed to by state and territory agriculture ministers at a meeting on Wednesday.
It will allow livestock to be individually traced if there is an outbreak.