Farmers worry about potential spread of foot-and-mouth disease as Australia and Indonesia battle outbreak


Nathaniel Rose kept his shoes and sandals separate from his main luggage as he flew home from Bali to Melbourne last week.

During his 10-day holiday on the Indonesian island, Mr Rose said he was aware of concerns that tourists visiting Bali could bring foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) back to Australia, including via contaminated soil on shoes .

“I took a trip to Mount Batur which could be considered rural. We passed through the village along the dirt road,” he said.

According Australian Government Advice, Mr. Rose carefully cleaned his shoes before boarding the plane.

“There were signs of foot and mouth disease at Denpasar airport,” he said.

“When we came down [the plane] there were biosecurity officers and we had to walk on a disinfectant mat.”

Nathaniel Rose has taken precautions to ensure he does not bring the disease from Indonesia to Australia.(Provided)

An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could devastate Australia’s livestock industries, cost the Australian economy around $80 billion and lead to the culling of many animals to control the disease.

These potential consequences explain why the agricultural industry here has been on hot coals since an outbreak began in Indonesia in May, with some calling for a travel ban.

Indonesian farmers and authorities are working hard to contain the spread of the virus, while the Australian government this week committed $10 million for biosecurity measures in Indonesia to combat the outbreak.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious animal disease that affects all cloven-hoofed animals and is transmitted in many ways including live animals, meat and dairy products, soil and untreated hides.

It is usually transmitted from animal to animal by inhalation, ingestion and contact with infected animals, but is not transmitted to humans, especially by eating infected meat.

The virus is different from the hand, foot and mouth disease common in children.

Local farmers apply strict controls

FMD Greenfields East Java Farm
Greenfields Indonesia has the largest dairy farm in East Java.(Provided:

The outbreak in Indonesia is the largest since 1990 and is estimated to cost the local economy $200 million a month.

Since May, 479,000 animals have been infected with foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia.

More than 9,000 animals have been killed in an attempt to control the spread of the virus, while another 5,189 have died from the disease.

East Java province currently has the highest number of infections, with a mix of farms in that region, including smaller traditional farms and others run by large corporations.

East Java’s largest dairy farm is owned by Greenfields Indonesia, a company established by a group of Australian and Indonesian entrepreneurs.

Map of foot and mouth disease cases in Indonesia
The provinces of Indonesia with the most cases of foot-and-mouth disease.(ABC News Graphic: Jarrod Fankhauser)

The farm, which has 16,000 cattle, has strict biosecurity measures in place, although no cases of the virus have been detected there.

Richard Slaney of Greenfields Indonesia said the company’s livestock undergo frequent health checks and are vaccinated against the disease.

Mr Slaney said there were also strict controls for cleaning workers’ dirty clothes and shoes, vehicle tires and animal feed.

“No outside visitors are allowed to come [to the property],” he added.

He said the vehicles were being sprayed “top to bottom”.

“All vehicles have undergone an additional cleaning process and very strict controls are also applied to milk tank transport vehicles,” he said.

Small farmers cannot afford vaccines

a man feeds his cows in a shed
Robi Gustiar says some farmers are struggling to access vaccines.(Provided)

Robi Gustiar is a cattle breeder and the general secretary of the Indonesian Cattle and Buffalo Breeders Association which represents smallholder farmers who own between five and 30 cattle.

He said small farmers are also doing what they can to control the outbreak.

“For farmers who have up to five cattle, they spray disinfectant in places around cattle pens and on vehicles.”

He said some farmers are still waiting for vaccines from the government, while medium and large traditional farmers are offering to buy vaccines independently to get faster access.

FMD Greenfields Cows East Java
Larger farms, like Greenfields Farm in East Java, have better access to vaccines.(Provided:

Mr Gustiar said small farmers could not afford vaccines and distribution was not easy.

“Indonesia is an archipelagic country, so transportation is a problem. They [need to] make sure the vaccine is still active when it reaches livestock,” he explained.

The Australian government’s support for Indonesia announced this week included providing more vaccines to Indonesia as well as protective equipment, training and expertise.

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said $4 million of the $10 million allocated was for the purchase of vaccines.

“This is in addition to support already announced for Indonesia, which included 1 million doses of foot and mouth disease vaccine and nearly half a million doses of lumpy skin disease vaccine already committed by the Australian Government,” did he declare.

Disaster authority bolsters Indonesia’s response

a man vaccinating a cow in a shed.
Indonesia has purchased 3 million doses of vaccine to fight the disease.(Provided: FAO Eko Prianto)

According to the Indonesian Foot-and-Mouth Disease Task Force, more than 1.2 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to animals.

Spokesman Wiku Adisasmito said he hoped the outbreak would be under control by the end of the year.

Mr Adisasmito added that no new infections had been reported in six provinces, including Bali, but cases continued to spread in other areas.

The task force oversees the implementation of a range of biosecurity measures, including livestock treatment and salvage, livestock testing, conditional culling and vaccination.

“Floor mat and disinfectant spray [have been placed] arriving and departing from Ngurah Rai [Denpasar] and Sentani International [Jayapura] airports and other areas included in the foot and mouth disease free zone,” Mr Adisasmito said.

Professor Rochadi Tawaf of the Committee for Agricultural Empowerment – a non-profit organization in West Java – said Indonesia’s response to the outbreak had improved since the National Management Authority of Disasters was tasked with fighting the epidemic.

“For me, this means that the government is already managing the situation properly and improving it, and the farmers have also contributed by managing their livestock better than before,” he said.

Farmers remain concerned about the spread of the disease

Welly Salim is originally from Indonesia and has worked in the beef industry for 25 years.

For the past 10 years he has lived in central Queensland near Rockhampton and owns around 1,400 cattle.

a man standing behind a dam with water
Welly Salim now owns a beef farm in central Queensland.(Provided)

Despite all precautions, he, like other farmers, remains concerned about the possibility of foot-and-mouth disease reaching Australia.

Mr Salim said that while the Indonesian government may not have done enough to reassure Australian farmers, some comments from Australian politicians have inflamed the situation.

“I think some comments from politicians are exaggerated about the possibility of tourists bringing the virus back, but the threat is real,” he said.

“We must find the most friendly solution for Indonesia, to help Indonesia solve the problem.”

Mr Salim stressed that there would also be a huge impact on Indonesia if the disease spread to Australia.

“Indonesia is Australia’s largest live cattle export market,” he said.

“Indonesia needs about 600,000 tons of canned beef every year.”


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