Following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Indonesia, the government is introducing extra measures to ensure it doesn’t reach New Zealand, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.
A “doomsday disease” for the farming sector
It’s been 21 years since over 6 million pigs, cows and sheep were destroyed in the United Kingdom following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD). Bill Sykes, a former vet in the Victorian agriculture department flew to the UK to help contain the outbreak in 2001 and recalls the toll it took. It’s estimated the outbreak cost the UK $21b (NZD). Yesterday agriculture and biosecurity minister Damien O’Connor described FMD as a “doomsday disease” for the New Zealand farming sector. To be clear, we have never had an outbreak here but prevention measures are being stepped up after an outbreak in Indonesia, including in the popular tourist destination of Bali.
Treasury data estimates FMD outbreak could result in lost earnings of $15b
During yesterday’s post-cabinet press conference O’Connor pointed to New Zealand’s already extremely stringent biosecurity procedures. He also outlined the extra measures being taken, including the introduction of disinfecting foot mats for arrivals from Indonesia, an awareness campaign targeting travellers before they go to Indonesia, an audit of the palm kernel supply chain in Indonesia, and providing resources to Indonesia to help them deal with the disease. There is also a ban on travellers bringing in any meat from Indonesia and an FMD readiness task force being set up. Treasury data from 2018 shows a six month outbreak of FMD in the North Island could result in lost export earnings of $15b.
Calls to stop flights between Indonesia and Australia
New Zealand does not have direct flights with Indonesia but Australia does, and there have been calls there to stop flights between the two countries. This has been ruled out by the government, who have cited Australia’s $17b-a-year trading relationship with Indonesia and that there are outbreaks of the disease in 70 other countries. Australia is introducing further measures and 100% of all incoming parcels from Indonesia and China (where FMD is also present) will now be screened. The increased risk of FMD is also prompting farmers in Australia to consider freezing cattle sperm and eggs to protect bloodlines.
First outbreak in 37 years in Indonesia causing “mayhem”
Since May, more than 400,000 cases have been recorded across 23 provinces in Indonesia. The Indonesian government has opted against widespread culling due to concerns about insufficient funds to compensate farmers for lost livestock. There are also concerns the outbreak may impact the tourism industry in Indonesia which is only just recovering from pandemic border closures and travel restrictions. RNZ’s A Country Life recently spoke to a vet based in Indonesia who said it had caused “absolute mayhem” on the bigger islands in Indonesia, Java and Sumatra.