Biosecurity is back as front page news

A word from The Livestock Collective Director, John Cunnington.


Biosecurity is back as front page news to the wider community with the recent incursions of Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) and subsequently Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in Indonesia.

As the agricultural supply chain is aware, biosecurity has always been a major issue for Australian agriculture with most of our trade protocols being underlined with Australia’s clean and green image of being predominately disease free. With most seeing FMD-related material spamming their timelines, I was hoping to provide a slightly different perspective on the issue.

Australia has been trading with countries with lesser animal health status for decades. The issue with Indonesia is they too were LSD/FMD free until a few months ago. This allowed Australia to be their primary supplier of live animals as others in the region were unable to meet their required health protocols. As they did hold this health status though, they did not have the relevant vaccines approved to be used within the country right away (this is not unusual).

With the initial LSD incursion, provisional approval for the LSD vaccine was provided but it was only allowed to be used in areas where infected animals were. Whilst understandable to want to keep the issue localised, vaccinating animals outside of the infected zone is essential to prevent further spreading. LSD is a vector transmitted disease which makes spreading extremely difficult to prevent as the distributors of the disease are insects with high levels of mobility on their own or through weather systems. This ability to move outside of usual biosecurity barriers is the most concerning element of this disease, especially to Northern Australia where it would be most likely to be found if LSD did reach Australia.

With FMD, first the strain must be identified, regulatory approvals sort and implementation plans put in place to disseminate the millions of vaccines. This is at the same time when you have livestock moving all around the country and religious festivals occurring.

For livestock importers in Indonesia, the risk is currently too great for most to import without access to vaccines to protect their current feedlot numbers and the incoming natïve Australian animals. Therefore, when live exports of cattle are usually in their peak during the Northern Australia dry season, the numbers leaving the north are at significantly reduced quantities. There is light at the end of the tunnel for when the FMD vaccine issue is resolved, but we are still yet to fully understand how long the tunnel is.

The vast majority of Indonesia’s livestock population is made up of smallholders, that is people holding as little as one to two head. This investment for the smallholders can be their main income and savings. As a result of the fear and unknown, we are seeing high amounts of local livestock being sold into the market, often at heavily discounted prices as to not have their investments tied up in animals that could potentially get diseased. This oversupply of livestock into the local market is slumping prices. At a point where Australian exporters were holding out for feedlotters to access vaccines as the silver bullet to the trade operating at usual levels again, we are now faced with further uncertainty as Importers wait to see how long the panic selling of local cattle will continue.

I see Indonesia as an extension of the Australian cattle supply chain and as such, we need to be providing as much assistance and resources as we can to help them on their mission to redeem their disease-free status once again.