Australia finds foot-and-mouth disease in imported food

Viral fragments of foot-and-mouth disease and traces of African swine fever were found in a sample of pork floss. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Australia has detected traces of foot-and-mouth disease on imported animal products, deepening fears about a potential outbreak that could devastate the nation's livestock industry.

Viral fragments were found in a sample of pork floss offered for sale in Melbourne, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said on Wednesday (July 20). Traces of African swine fever were also detected in the sample.

While the test does not indicate live virus, officers have seized the product from all linked supermarkets and a warehouse in Melbourne.

Both diseases do not pose a threat to human health, the department said in a statement.

After the discovery of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia, where it has swept through cattle herds and reached tourist hotspot Bali, Australia has ramped up surveillance and measures at borders to prevent an incursion.

Sanitation foot mats in international airports will be deployed this week, the department said.

Foot-and-mouth is a highly contagious disease that affects cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.

It is characterised by fever and blister-like sores on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats and between the hooves.

The disease poses a serious threat to Australia's A$32 billion (S$30.77 billion) livestock industry. A widespread outbreak could have an estimated direct economic impact of A$80 billion. A vaccine is available if there is an incursion.

A number of other pork products for retail sale around Australia have also tested positive for African swine fever viral fragments. Officers are securing the products and undertaking investigations, the department said.

The Australian reported that the products found with traces of both diseases were imported from China, citing Agriculture Minister Murray Watt.

This shows the risk of incursion is not only linked to Indonesian goods and could come from other places, the Australian Meat Industry Council said in a statement.

African swine fever is a fatal disease that has devastating effects on pig populations. There is no effective vaccine against it.

The disease caused a dramatic outbreak in China in 2018, wiping out roughly half the nation's herd of more than 400 million pigs within a year. It has recovered since then.

The Australian currency weakened against its Kiwi counterpart on the news about the disease discovery. As of 3.50pm Sydney time, the Australian dollar lost 0.3 per cent against its Kiwi peer after rising for three days prior.

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