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The recent incursion of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus into Indonesia after more than 40 years of freedom, demonstrates how vulnerable countries are.

Our current status as a country free from FMD (without the use of vaccination) allows many of our agricultural products to be exported. An outbreak would severely impact these export markets causing devastating economic losses and social and mental hardship. It would impact our supply chain and be felt well beyond farming communities.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences has modelled the economic impact of a widespread FMD outbreak. They estimated an impact of $80 billion to Australia’s livestock industry over a 10-year period.

What is FMD?

FMD is a highly contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals, which include livestock species such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and Asian buffalo (water buffalo). Other animals, such as feral pigs and deer and other susceptible wild ungulates, can also play a role in spreading the disease.

Symptoms include blisters in and around the mouth, tongue and feet of infected animals. Infected animals might drool or limp, and lactating animals can develop blisters on teats.

Most animals will recover from the virus but some may never recover to previous production levels, especially dairy cows.

FMD research requires a global approach

Since research with live FMD virus is not permitted in Australia, all the work is performed offshore in countries such as Vietnam, the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, the Netherlands and Argentina.

For many years, scientists at our Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness have been leading research to ensure Australia is well-prepared for an FMD outbreak.

Risk of the disease spreading to Australia increases during outbreaks in neighbouring countries. This reinforces the importance of collaborating with our neighbours to help increase their own capacity to detect and control outbreaks of FMD and other significant diseases.

Working within a global network is particularly necessary for our researchers, as research with live FMD virus is not permitted in Australia.

In 2003, the Global FMD Research Alliance mission was launched, a worldwide association of animal research organisations involved in combatting FMD through research outputs. Our staff are members of the alliance and have been sharing knowledge through collaborations and publishing our findings.

Our team collaborates with scientists in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand where FMD is considered endemic as well as other FMD free countries with high containment facilities such as the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, and the Netherlands.

CSIRO is also a member of the Vaccine Expert Advisory Group which assesses the global foot-and-mouth disease epidemiological situation to recommend the vaccine strains to be included in the Australian Vaccine Bank.

How the team at our Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness is helping

Our staff led the FMD-Risk Management Project, testing FMD vaccines held in the Australian vaccine bank against the strains of FMD virus circulating in South-East Asia. During this project, our researchers investigated which of the stored vaccines would protect animals against currently circulating FMD virus strains.

They also conducted studies to determine how harmful each of the strains of virus were, and determined how much virus was shed from animals via saliva, nasal fluids and faeces.

It is vitally important to continue to test available vaccines to ensure they will provide protection against emerging strains of the virus. Vaccination is a key option to an outbreak of FMD in Australia or in neighbouring countries.

FMD Ready project

Our FMD research team are based at our Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness.

Building upon the substantial work of the FMD Risk Management Project, the FMD Ready project aimed to ensure Australia is prepared in the event of an emergency animal disease outbreak, using FMD as a model.

It also aimed to help develop processes and support tools to ensure a rapid return to trade following an outbreak.

The FMD Ready project improved Australia’s preparedness through:

  • Improving decision-making on which antigens should be included when renewing Australia’s FMD vaccine bank
  • Improving the availability, accuracy, and efficiency of diagnostic tests for use in the detection of a FMD incursion to ensure accurate diagnosis and surveillance
  • Improving the participation of primary producers in biosecurity and surveillance networks, which resulted in increased awareness of how to recognise and report emergency animal diseases, and helped to build trust in local networks between primary producers and government agencies
  • Increasing the interest of government agencies in working with livestock industry networks to improve biosecurity and surveillance outcomes
  • Developing biosecurity communication tools by producers, for producers
  • Updating and expanding the Australian Animal Disease spread model (AADIS) as a decision support tool and integrating it with improved economic modelling tools to inform disease control strategies, including vaccination and the use of trading zones to support earlier return to trade
  • Developing a tool called SPREAD, to incorporate big data into the real-time modelling of disease spread during an emergency animal disease outbreak.

FMD Ready was successful in collaborating among various scientific disciplines (e.g. modelling, economics, science), combined with direct interaction with livestock industries, governments, research and development centres and other agencies, to solve highly complex problems.

As a result of this transdisciplinary approach, the project members have developed a suite of tools to ensure Australia is better prepared for an emergency disease incursion. This will provide better protection to our livestock industries and lessen the potential for disease impact.

The full FMD Ready report [pdf · 2MB] is available on the Meat and Livestock Australia website.

This project was supported by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), through funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program, and by producer levies from Australian FMD-susceptible livestock (cattle, sheep, goats and pigs) industries and Charles Sturt University (CSU), leveraging significant in-kind support from the research partners. 

The research partners for this project were the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), CSU through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, supported by Animal Health Australia (AHA).  

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