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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6031

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (7:16 PM) —Australia would be devastated if foot-and-mouth disease were to ever enter our shores. I know there are some reports that it was perhaps in Australia in the very early 1800s, at a time when there was limited scientific evidence and limited records kept, but we must look at the fact that we have been free of this disease for more than 130 years. Over many decades Australian farmers have built themselves a strong, world-class reputation as producers of clean, green and high-quality pork, beef, veal, lamb, venison and dairy products, but this could all be destroyed if Australia were to experience an outbreak of this devastating and highly contagious disease.

The most severe foot-and-mouth disease outbreak on record happened in 2001 in England. It caused a devastating loss of more than A$19 billion to the British economy and to the farmers. Some five million sheep, 764,000 cattle and 435,000 pigs and goats—a total of more than six million animals—were destroyed because of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. On top of the economic loss, it is estimated that the cost to the British government for the clean-up and for compensation for slaughtered animals was A$6 billion. But no compensation can ever replace the genetic potential of the animals that are lost forever, genetics that have been bred up over years and years.

Should an outbreak happen in Australia, the genetics would be lost because the only control method is the total destruction of all affected animals. The devastating aspect of this disease is that, because it is so highly contagious, any animal that comes in contact with infected animals or is believed to have come into contact with infected animals must sadly be destroyed. If Australia were to experience an outbreak, we may find it difficult to contain due to our large feral pig, camel and goat populations. Imagine trying to clean up coastal areas where we have large populations of feral pigs—or feral goats, as is the case further west—during a wet season when you have to deal with the disruption to roads and the flooding that goes on. There is the potential for those feral animals to transport the disease over wide distances. It would be difficult to control and would add to the complexity.

Imagine the loss of the genetic potential of our superior gene stock in Australia. This year in May we had Beef 2009 in Rockhampton—one of the major events for the beef industry. People and breeders from many countries around the world came to Rockhampton to Beef 2009 to look at the superior genetics that we have in our beef herds in Australia—another major export earner for Australia. Of course, if there were a foot-and-mouth outbreak these superior ones would be caught up as well. It does not discriminate; there would be total destruction of all the animals in the infected area.

Just before Christmas last year, when the minister released the Beale report entitled One Biosecurity: a working partnership, I can assure you that word spread as fast as the potential that this disease has to spread that the report recommended the importation of a positive controlled sample of the virus for research purposes and that the Rudd government—and this is from the minister—had given its in-principle agreement to the recommendation. Farmers and their representative bodies, such as AgForce, the Cattle Council of Australia and the Australian Beef Association, were understandably up in arms about the possibility of this disease entering our shores.

One can certainly not accuse them of overreacting. The 2007 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in England—which came after the 2001 outbreak—was shown to have come from a secure animal health laboratory where the virus was held. After the 2001 outbreak in England the British beef processors were unable to resume trading for five years. Imagine how those affected UK farmers must have felt when in 2007 they were hit with this disease again. Imagine being part of an industry that was probably still repairing the damage done by the devastating 2001 outbreak only to cop it again because of a breach in what was a so-called secure animal health laboratory. It was the only known location in the United Kingdom where that particular strain was held.

A report into the outbreak concluded that the virus had leaked out from drainage at the facility, which contaminated the surrounding soil and then was spread to a nearby farm on the wheels of cars. How easily it can spread—an accidental outbreak occurring from a so-called high-security animal health laboratory! That gives members here an idea of how devastatingly contagious this disease is. In a somewhat fortunate turn for the British farmers, because it was caught reasonably quickly, it was able to be contained to a number of farms. Nonetheless, it was devastating for the affected farmers. According to the President of Britain’s National Farmers Union, Peter Kendall:

The effects of the outbreak were crippling for livestock farmers—milk had to be poured away, herds that had taken generations to breed had to be slaughtered, high quality livestock couldn’t be exported or sold for breeding and instead had to go to slaughter, and animals couldn’t be moved to fresh grazing and had to be left where they were.

They had to be left where they were if they were anywhere within the containment area, or they were destroyed. I still have visions in my mind of the fires when these animals were being destroyed. They were being burnt in situ, where they were, because that is one of the control measures. I would hate to ever see that sort of thing on our shores.

In accordance with the EU requirements, a total ban on the export of UK animal and meat products from susceptible species was imposed and it was only in December 2007 that the EU export restrictions were lifted. The World Organisation for Animal Health did not reinstate the country’s foot-and-mouth disease-free status until February last year. That outbreak cost the farming industry in the UK some £100 million and insurmountable losses. Imagine if that had happened here in Australia. Imagine if our farmers were locked out of the global trade for even a year. Regional and rural communities would be economically gutted. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry estimates that a worst-case Australian foot-and-mouth disease infection would cost between $8 billion and $13 billion of gross domestic product. They are government figures; they are the department’s figures.

The emotional toll on farmers who have long been battling the drought could not be calculated if they were to then have their animals destroyed as a result of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. That is why the unequivocal and indefinite rejection of recommendation 59 of the Beale report is so important to the peace of mind of Australia’s livestock producers. I acknowledge that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said that the Rudd government would only allow the importation of a live virus of foot-and-mouth disease if an outbreak in Australia had already occurred. I have got to say that is after the horse has bolted, and that comment also concerned me.

I note that the government intends to replace the 100-year-old Quarantine Act of 1908 with new legislation. I call on Minister Burke to use this opportunity when drafting our new quarantine legislation to make explicit and indefinite prohibition on the importation of foot-and-mouth virus for research purposes or, indeed, any other purpose, regardless of whether or not there has been an outbreak. We do not need to bring a live sample into this country. The Australian government scientists are already involved in offshore research in countries which have foot-and-mouth. We do not need to bring it onto our shores. Our billion dollar agricultural industry cannot afford the risk. (Time expired)