Australia, Indonesia commit to fight against FMD outbreak

Health Headlines

Australian Agriculture Minister Murray Watt, right, walks with his Indonesian counterpart Syahrul Yasin Limpo after their meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, July 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Australia’s top agriculture official met with his Indonesian counterpart on Thursday to discuss ways to stop a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that has infected hundreds of thousands of cattle in Indonesia and prevent the outbreak from spreading to Australia.

The disease was detected in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and East Java in May and has spread to 20 other provinces, including Bali, in the past two months.

Australian Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt met with Indonesia’s Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo and vowed to support Indonesia’s efforts to contain the spread of the outbreak in Australia’s closest major neighbor.

“FMD would have a significant impact on Australian agriculture if it reaches our shores,” Watt said in a statement ahead of his visit. “We are taking practical measures to prevent that.”

Foot-and-mouth disease — an acute, highly contagious viral disease of cloven-footed animals that is sometimes transmitted to humans — is spreading rapidly across Indonesia, which had been outbreak-free for 32 years, before an infection reportedly by imported cattle from India.

Indonesia, struggling to cope with the rising numbers, is setting up a task force and ordering the culling of more than 3,600 infected livestock.

As of Thursday, more than 366,000 animals have been infected in 22 provinces, largely on the most populated islands of Java and Sumatra. At least 2,400 animals have died from the disease, according to official data from the National FMD Task Force.

Limpo said his ministry is working with the National Disaster Mitigation Agency and together they have distributed medicines, antibiotics, vitamins, immune boosters and disinfectants to farmers and breeders.

The government has warned cattle breeders and traders to ensure that the cattle they sell are free from the disease, ordering slaughterhouses to kill and bury all animals showing FMD symptoms and to vaccinate susceptible animals.

Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto said the government had prepared around 3 million doses of FMD vaccines, mostly from France. Nearly 500,000 animals have been vaccinated as of Thursday, and the country planned to buy 28 million more vaccine doses to combat the disease, Hartarto said.

After meeting with Limpo in Jakarta, Watt said Australia would send one million FMD vaccines to Indonesia in early August and provide a funding package worth 500,000 Australian dollars ($337,600) to Meat and Livestock Australia — a Sydney-based producer-owned company that provides marketing, research and development services to over 50,000 cattle, sheep and goat farmers — to work with Indonesian feedlots and share expertise.

“This is a very serious disease and it’s in both of our interests to get this outbreak under control,” Watt told a news conference. “We are taking a range of tough measures at home, and we are also working with our friends in Indonesia to make sure that we are doing work abroad.”

He applauded efforts by the Indonesian government to fight the contagious disease, especially in Bali, a tourist island popular with Australians. Some farm groups have called for a travel ban between Australia and Bali fearing that tourists could carry the disease home on their clothing and shoes.

During his two-day visit to Indonesia, Watt also plans to meet with the Disaster Mitigation Agency chief and with Indonesian agribusiness leaders.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited Indonesia last month and pledged vaccines and technical expertise to help the country fight the FMD outbreak.

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