By HARRY CLARKE
STAKEHOLDERS in the booming AgTech sector gathered in Toowoomba this week to discuss how digital innovation is revolutionising Australian farming, but it wasn’t long before speakers addressed the elephant in the room – foot and mouth disease (FMD).
Asked whether authorities should consider taking the extreme measure of closing the Indonesian border while the FMD outbreak was managed, the representative from a prominent Wagyu beef operation responded by saying “one hundred percent”.
Jessie Chiconi, from family owned Chiconi Grazing PTY LTD based in western Queensland, told the 400M Agrifood Innovation Forum that the arrival of FMD in Australia would be dire for the entire beef industry.
“We are far, far too big an industry to lose because we can’t throw our shoes out and wander back in,” Chiconi said.
“It’s not only returning holidayers that are perhaps an issue, it’s little bits of meat that might get stored in a suitcases on the way home. It’s the things that aren’t declared which is always going to be an issue.”
Meanwhile North Queensland senator Susan McDonald has suggested the Federal Government should consider suspending flights from Bali, saying an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Australia would unleash a crisis of “biblical proportions”.
Chiconi’s and McDonald’s comments echo sentiments expressed by some cattle industry figures on social media.
“If foot and mouth disease does end up in Australia – and I do think it is more of a ‘when’ than an ‘if’ – we will never eradicate it, not with our wild pests and pigs and goats,” Chiconi said.
“We have an 85,000 acre property north of Mungallala and there’s an entire eastern boundary that is just all range country, and you simply can’t exclusion fence that area.
“In the meantime, foot and mouth is also an airborne disease, so we will never be able to fence for it because it’s going to get through somewhere… unless there is a way we can develop a vaccine for it. Hopefully there is something something we can look into.
“But at the moment, as it stands, if foot and mouth enters our country, we’re at a point where we’re very strongly considering not buying new genetics for our business.
Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) Queensland chairman Michael James, who also owns the renowned Carina North Quality Meats butchery in Brisbane, also said authorities should close our border with Indonesia “as a first step”.
He said contamination of FMD in the Australian national herd would be disastrous, not just for animal welfare but for the entire beef supply chain.
“If foot and mouth got in it would decimate the entire meat sector, not just the production side of it, but the meat retail, wholesale, processing – it would hurt the industry significantly and a lot of people as well.
“AMIC is working very closely with the government on task forces and committees, talking to the government and the minister, working very hard and taking this very seriously because it would have a very signifiant impact on our members.
“You have to destroy stock which means the whole supply is impacted. It’s not just immediate destruction of livestock and the potential drying up of supply. It’s the destruction of years of research and genetic improvement of herds.
“It would resonate for a long time to come and through the entire industry.”
In a statement late yesterday Agriculture Minister Murray Watt announced he Federal Government would provide $1.5 million to support Indonesia’s response to the FMD outbreak.
The funding will provide at least 1 million FMD doses for Indonesia’s vaccination program, following a formal request for assistance from the Indonesian Government.
“During my meeting with Lieutenant General Suharyanto we offered to share Australian expertise on emergency disease management and biosecurity,” Watt said.
“The Albanese Government is taking a two-pronged approach to preventing the incursion of Foot and Mouth disease, first by strengthening biosecurity measures at the Australian border, and also by supporting efforts to curb the spread overseas.”