An international expert on infectious livestock diseases has warned that Australian policy makers need to continue to have the resolve and ability to collaborate to ensure all prevention strategies are in place to prevent a devastating disease outbreak in Australia, which could impact cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and deer.

Professor Alan Olmstead, a distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of California, and Professor Tim Carpenter, a Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases at Massey University in New Zealand, will bring highly infectious livestock diseases to the forefront this week at a series of events hosted by the Gardiner Foundation to discuss Australia’s preparedness to manage foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

At public and private forums, Professor Olmstead and Professor Carpenter will provide insights into world’s best practice, highlighting the measures that can be implemented to address the risks of FMD and how to manage outbreaks effectively. Professor Olmstead will make reference to the hard-learned lessons from offshore FMD outbreaks, in particular in the United States, the economic impact an FMD outbreak could have and the importance of prompt implementation of control measures.

The planned events aim to inspire discussions around government policy in managing FMD, one of the most significant biosecurity threats to Australia’s livestock industries, and will also challenge the Australian dairy industry to question its management of highly infectious diseases.

“Australia is particularly at risk because of the size of its livestock industry relative to the total economy,” said Professor Olmstead who has visited Australia’s Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong during his visit (photos available on request).

“The cost of an FMD outbreak in Australia will depend on how early it’s found and how widespread it is, but a recent government estimate of up to fifty billion dollars is not unreasonable,” he said.

In commenting on the significance of an FMD outbreak, the Professor said “An outbreak would affect the agricultural community, but it would also tend to shut down tourism and affect all sorts of allied industries which would see their export trade or even their trade among States quarantined.”

He noted that historically foot and mouth outbreaks sometimes lasted years.

“To prevent an FMD outbreak, Australia should continue to be diligent at its border controls and it should be monitoring other countries that have FMD to make sure that products aren’t being shipped from those countries directly to Australia.”

“FMD could come in in a variety of ways. The scientists know how to keep it out. The question is do the policy makers continue their resolve to be tough enough to prevent it coming in?” he concluded.

Gardiner Foundation Chairman, Mike Taylor AO, said the Gardiner Foundation’s events with Professor Olmstead and Professor Tim Carpenter aim to lead conversations that recognise the significant and detrimental impact an outbreak could have on the dairy and livestock industries.

“The Gardiner Foundation hopes that Professor Olmstead and Professor Carpenter’s visit will reinforce discussions between the agricultural industry and government to drive effective policies relating to highly infectious diseases,” said Mr Taylor.