Victoria creates Emergency Taskforce to tackle threat of foot and mouth disease

Victoria will establish a special task force to tackle animal disease emergencies, the state government has announced. The Emergency Animal Disease Taskforce will be overseen by top bureaucrats from both the agriculture and emergency management sectors. The taskforce will plan for a response to foot and mouth disease should the devastating animal virus begin spreading in the state. Australian officials have sounded the alarm after a recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in neighbouring Indonesia.

It's one of the most serious livestock diseases in the world and affects cloven-hoofed animals like cattle, sheep, and pigs.

The disease can spread through manure, and there’s a risk that a single footstep in contaminated soil could bring the virus into Australia.

If an outbreak occurred in Australia, it would be the first in 130 years. It would likely necessitate mass slaughter of animals and could cost as much as $80bn nationwide in a single year.

A Victorian government press release said the new task force will focus on “bolstering the workforce of Agriculture Victoria to manage the potential social, economic and environmental threat of FMD.”

“Biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility, and we all need to help protect our agriculture, our economy and our unique natural environment,“ state Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney said.

“Risk assessment and preparedness is key in ensuring we’re best placed to respond if there is a positive detection in livestock in Victoria – and we’re doing the work now to protect our industry.”

The group will be co-chaired by Agriculture Victoria Chief Executive Officer Matt Lowe and the Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp, with an advising role for chief veterinarian Graeme Cooke.

“Foot-and-mouth disease is not yet in Australia – and we all need to keep it that way by having robust measures protecting Australia’s border – however it is necessary to have plans in place which continue to be worked on in case they are ever needed,” Dr Cooke said.

Agriculture podcaster Oli Le Lievre told ABC Breakfast on Saturday farmers he had spoken to were anxious about the possibility of an outbreak.

“I think people are rightly concerned and there is a lot of anxiety around it,” he said.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watts said earlier in the week the government would continue to “ramp up” biosecurity measures.

Officials are screening travellers returning from Indonesia, as well as parcels from that country and from China.

Airports will also be fitted with sanitation foot mats to lower the risk of contaminated soil being brought into Australia.

The Minister said 3700 travellers returning from Indonesia were checked at Melbourne Airport last Saturday.

“We have now increased our surveillance of mail from Indonesia and China so that every parcel is screened and so we can identify any potential biosecurity risks,” Mr Murray said.

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