Australian Government approves importation of live lumpy skin disease samples

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
Australia is on high alert after an outbreak of lumpy skin disease, pictured, in cattle in Indonesia.
Camera IconAustralia is on high alert after an outbreak of lumpy skin disease, pictured, in cattle in Indonesia. Credit: Supplied/DAWE

Live samples of the lumpy skin virus will be imported into Australia as efforts ramp up to develop a vaccine for the potentially deadly disease that could stop WA’s northern cattle industry in its tracks.

The Federal Government granted approval last Friday after the Cattle Council of Australia called for infectious disease experts to be given access to live samples so they could develop an approved mRNA vaccine.

Australian authorities have been on high alert since early March, when Indonesia announced the disease had been detected in cattle in 31 villages in Sumatra’s Riau Province.

“The Australian Government is opening a pathway to import live lumpy skin virus, following consultation, risk assessment and appropriate regulatory controls,” a Government spokesperson said.

“There is now a significant risk that the disease has spread beyond the Sumatran province where it was first detected and is likely already more widespread.”

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the move would help ensure industry had the best possible vaccine protection for emergency use and a well-developed national diagnostic capacity for early detection.

“Import of live virus is our best bet to prepare and protect Australia, and it is not a decision that we have taken lightly,” he said.

“Live virus would only be held at our world-leading Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness under strict containment.”

Mr Littleproud said the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment would work with the ACDP to ensure the safe import, and would undertake more detailed consultation with industry, states and territories.

“Importing live virus would also lead to opportunities to develop more suitable vaccines, which will be of benefit to not just Australia but also the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

Cattle Council of Australia chief executive Markus Rathsmann applauded the Federal Government’s “swift action”, saying it was “the right call” to protect Australia’s $70 red meat and livestock industry.

“This decision shows there’s no time to waste,” he said.

“Now the virus is in Indonesia, it poses a significant threat to our Australian beef industry as it can spread via biting insects carried on monsoonal winds.

“It’s important we work towards the development of an mRNA vaccine, as it doesn’t carry the risk of infection that comes with traditional vaccines.”

Lumpy skin disease has never been detected in Australia but has been spreading rapidly throughout the world in recent years, becoming established in Africa, the Middle East, South-East Europe, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Importation of the virus — which poses no threat to humans —would not change Australia’s disease status.

“To provide additional assurance, I have asked the Inspector-General of Biosecurity to review the proposed import process and compliance controls,” Mr Littleproud said.

“I welcome the decision by the Department to appoint a dedicated senior officer to a new role to co-ordinate national action to protect Australia and implement preparedness strategies.”

Mr Littleproud recently warned Australia’s live export trade would be “stopped overnight” if lumpy skin disease arrived here.

It would also impact exporters of dairy products, animal by-products such as hides, and some meat products.

Last week’s Federal Budget included $15 million of funding in the fight against the disease, including expediting an approved vaccine for use in Australia.

Lumpy skin disease causes painful skin lesions, emaciation, fever, sluggishness, decreased milk production, reproductive losses and in some cases death.

Any suspected cases of lumpy skin disease should be reported immediately to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

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