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Australian Agriculture Minister to hold urgent FMD talks with Indonesian counterparts

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt will fly to Jakarta on Wednesday for urgent talks with Indonesian authorities.
Camera IconFederal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt will fly to Jakarta on Wednesday for urgent talks with Indonesian authorities. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt will fly to Jakarta on Wednesday for urgent talks with Indonesian authorities as foot and mouth disease continues to ravage the archipelago.

Mr Watt will hold face-to-face talks with his Indonesian counterparts in a bid to assess the country’s FMD response and determine how Australia can help contain the spread of the extremely infectious livestock disease.

In what Mr Watt described as a “joint effort from government and industry”, he will be joined by Australia’s chief veterinary officer Mark Schipp and National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson.

Mr Watt said the two-day visit was the next step in the Federal Government’s efforts to combat FMD after biosecurity measures were ramped up at Australia’s borders last week.

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“The Albanese Government is taking strong action on FMD at home and abroad,” he said.

“This two-pronged approach is about strengthening our biosecurity defences at home, and supporting Indonesia to manage and contain the outbreak there.”

New biosecurity measures introduced last week included extra screening of travellers, luggage and mail arriving from Indonesia, and extra training for airport biosecurity staff.

Biosecurity officers have been boarding all planes arriving from Indonesia and providing FMD advice to travellers, while detector dogs trained to sniff out contaminated meat and animal products have been deployed at Darwin and Cairns airports.

Detector dogs were already stationed at all other international airports in Australia.

Additional signage and flyers have also been placed at airports, with the Government launching a social media campaign outlining FMD risks and precautions and informing travellers of their biosecurity responsibilities.

South Korean health officials wearing protective gear prepare to slaughter pigs at an FMD-infected farm in 2010.
Camera IconSouth Korean health officials wearing protective gear prepare to slaughter pigs at an FMD-infected farm in 2010. Credit: Ha Sa-hun/AP

FMD has been spreading rapidly throughout Indonesia since early May and was confirmed in Bali on July 5, bringing the country’s total to more than 230,000 cases across at least 22 provinces.

Mr Watt, who will also be joined by other senior departmental officials, said the “high-level delegation” demonstrated a “united stand” between government and the farm sector to keep Australian agriculture safe from the “potentially devastating disease”.

“FMD would have a significant impact on Australian agriculture if it reaches our shores, and we are taking practical measures to prevent that,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said Australia had so far committed $910,000 to Indonesia for “support on vaccine procurement and for communication campaigns and materials”.

“Vaccine is being rolled out by Indonesian authorities on a daily basis,” the spokeswoman said.

“The exact amounts for FMD assistance... are subject to further discussion with Indonesian officials.”

Indonesia is home to about 16.6m head of cattle — including some 600,000 in Bali — with the first vaccinations having commenced in Java on June 25.

About 800,000 doses have been distributed so far according to Indonesian-based veterinarian and analyst Ross Ainsworth.

FMD does not pose a threat to humans but affects all cloven-hoofed animals, including cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.

An Australian outbreak of FMD would cost the nation’s economy up to $80b over 10-years, according to the Federal Government’s commodity forecaster ABARES.

Mr Watt will also meet with Indonesia’s Ministers for Agriculture, Disaster Management and Fisheries, and with leading Indonesian agribusiness representatives.

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