Foot and mouth still a major concern

Spraying disinfectant.
Spraying disinfectant.

PRESSURE is on Australia’s border protection to identify and decontaminate international travellers arriving in Australia from countries where foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is endemic.

Attention mounted on the issue during the recent Senate Rural and Regional Affairs Committee’s estimates hearings, amid concerns about the process failing to properly prevent the introduction of FMD into Australia.

Currently, the questions which notify customs’ officers of potential contamination include whether travellers are carrying soil on their footwear and whether they have been in contact with farm animals.

FMD researcher Michael Blake has requested an addition to the self-declaration incoming passenger card to identify visitors who have walked through specific FMD areas, particularly endemic countries.

In response to Mr Blake’s concerns, Labor Senator Carol Brown led the biosecurity questioning and asked the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) representatives whether visitors to Nepal, which is an endemic FMD country, were entering Australia without being decontaminated.

FMD is a highly contagious animal disease that would have major consequences were it to be introduced into Australia.

The 2001 outbreak in the United Kingdom caused losses of more than $19 billion.

DAWR animal health policy, acting Australian chief veterinary officer, Robyn Martin said questions on the incoming passenger card were a part of the biosecurity clearance process at the airport which every passenger was required to complete.

“On the basis of that, officers will then conduct an inspection of those goods and, if necessary, conduct decontamination treatment,” Dr Martin said.

Senator Brown referenced Mr Blake’s concerns about five walkers who recently returned from Nepal without their footwear decontaminated. “From the questions that you are actually asking on the card, passengers may not believe that they need to tick those questions,” she said.

“They probably did not go to farms but they have been walking all over the place.

“So you are happy with the way that the system is working now?”

The head of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ Animal Biosecurity Division, Tim Chapman said FMD was a concern.

“We do treat it very, very seriously,” Mr Chapman said.

“We do look at passengers for products they might be carrying or where they have been, but it is neither an effective or efficient way for us to try to manage that risk by doing a complete decontamination of every passenger who may have been to a FMD country.”

DAWR’s Lyn O’Connell said the risk of a passenger coming into Australia carrying FMD would need to have “reasonably significant amounts of soil (or) manure on their footwear”.