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Foot and mouth outbreak in Australia inevitable

Victoria's new chief vet, Charles Milne was in the role in Scotland during the last catastrophic F&M outbreak in the UK and thinks its not if, but when, Australia's livestock succumb to the virus.

LIBBY PRICE August 7, 2014 11:00pm

Victoria's recently appointed Chief Veterinarian Charles Milne visits Tom Marriot's farm at Tarnook. Dr Milne was chief vet in the United Kingdom when it had a foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001


It’s not a matter of if, but when Australia has an outbreak of the catastrophic foot and mouth disease in livestock.

That’s the educated opinion of Victoria’s recently appointed chief veterinarian Charles Milne, who has moved here from Scotland where he held the same position for six years, including during the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001 which cost the United Kingdom’s farming sector eight billion pounds and far more for the wider economy.

It’s estimated a similar outbreak here would cost the Australian economy about $50billion.

Dr Milne visited Benalla last week as part of his introduction to Victorian agriculture. He believes while Australia has the natural advantage of being an island continent, there are still a number of ways the devastating virus could find its way here and infect our livestock.

‘‘Swill feeding is probably the number one (feeding left-over food to pigs), even kitchen waste. In the UK the swine fever outbreak in 2000 was caused in a free-range pig herd by feeding waste food ... so a car passing by stopped and fed the pigs, probably with a ham sandwich, and we now know the 2001 epidemic of F&M was introduced by a swill feeder who was not processing swill properly.’’

The virus survives well in animal bone and, to a lesser extent, meat.

World trade rules now ban the trade of ‘‘bone in meat’’ products but Dr Milne says no country can ever reduce the risk to zero even with a total ban on meat imports.

‘‘You import product like ‘parma’ ham and in all likelihood some illegally brought-in material.

‘‘You can’t always produce all the products that you need.

‘‘What we wouldn’t want to do is put unnecessary restrictions on trade and reduce peoples’ choices,’’ Dr Milne said.

‘‘What we need to do is make sure the safeguards that we’ve got in place are sufficient to keep the virus risk mitigated. We have very strong controls on bringing animals and animal material into Australia but we do trade in animal products and ... if there is a laxness of our controls on swill feeding in particular there is a real risk there.’’

Dr Milne discusses his commitment to mandatory electronic tagging of sheep and goats on page 4 of Country News this week.

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