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Looming disease threat my impact prices but also present opportunities

Vaccination of the national beef herd with the “live” FMD vaccine means Australia would automatically lose markets in South Korea and Japan.

The nation’s beef producers have been urged to “get their house in order” around timely decisions to sell livestock as Foot and Mouth Disease sweeps through the Indonesian archipelago.

It is a month since Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) was discovered in Indonesia following illegal trade in affected livestock with local farmers and processors pointing the finger at buffalo meat.

Market analyst Simon Quilty, Global AgriTrends, called for a ban on tourism travel into the region for at least six months due to the Indonesian government’s slow response to the crisis, the lack of vaccines and uncontrolled movement of cattle.

“We have a problem on our doorstep we need to think about, not just put our head in the sand,” Mr Quilty said.

Speaking at the Pasture Agronomy Service conference at Wagga Wagga on May 25, Mr Quilty said FMD had spread quickly over the past month to East, West and central Java, Lombok, every island in Indonesia.

“The real concern is two diseases at play – Lumpy Skin Disease and FMD – if FMD should come to Australia every market open to us closes overnight but the jury is out on Lumpy Skin Disease,” he said.

“We are confident South Korea would ban us for a minimum of three years and China would ban us overnight.”

Mr Quilty said the Indonesian government was slow in reporting FMD and a mass culling of the nation’s beef herd was not occurring.

“The reality is it will take eight to 12 months to get on top of FMD and Lumpy Skin Disease will continue to spread throughout the entire Indonesia, probably getting into East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

“Until Indonesia fully vaccinates their herd, none of us can rest easy.”

Vaccine supplies for both diseases are tight globally, with the FMD strain in Indonesia only recently identified as IND2001 and it has an incubation period of two to 14 days.

This week the Indonesian beef industry entered a lockdown period to prevent animals from being transferred, the government instigating a 10-step process for vaccines, and a groundswell to have buffalo meat banned.

“That created panic with farmers wanting to sell their animals before they get the disease but that rush to the door is spreading the disease quickly,” Mr Quilty said.

“The big concern is the movement of the 17 million pigs within Indonesia as they are viral factories – once a pig gets FMD it produces millions of particles of the disease whereas cattle and goats carry the disease but are not viral factories.

“It is now in the pig population and more concerning is if it gets into Balinese population of 900,000 pigs and 2.5 million cattle as the real worry for us is the tourists.”

Every year pre-COVID, 1.3 million Australians visited Bali.

“We are creating highways through each of our airports at Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane for FMD because it is in Bali – the disease can be carried on clothing,” Mr Quilty said.

“As a country we seriously need to think about banning people going to Bali, as extreme as that sounds.”

Mr Quilty said it would be highly unlikely for FMD to be windborne spread to Australia but the nation has an 18 per cent chance of the disease reaching our shores.

The disease could cause cattle fatality rates of 30-50 per cent in feedlots, 1-5 per cent for adult cattle in grazing systems and over 20 per cent for calves.

Vaccination of the national beef herd with the “live” FMD vaccine means Australia would automatically lose markets in South Korea and Japan.

“There is a 50-50 chance of FMD reaching Australia and that threat is immediate with cattle prices collapsing by 80 per cent. So, just get your house in order.

“As a country we shipped 772,000 live cattle last year with 409,000 went to Indonesia, and we expect that will be halved this year while live cattle prices in Darwin have fallen 15-17 per cent.”

But the upside is the impending ban on buffalo meat in Indonesia may open potential market opportunities for Australian boxed beef.

Australia is in a unique position to supply the world with protein due to the counter cyclical nature of a herd rebuild.

While other key supply countries are liquidating, Australia is rebuilding, presenting opportunities for beef and sheep meat exports over the next few years to feed the world.

“We just need to get over this immediate threat on our doorstep of FMD,” Mr Quilty said.