Foot and mouth disease

Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease that affects pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, deer, camelids and buffalo. FMD does not affect humans, horses, or companion animals such as dogs and cats.

It is spread rapidly by contact with infected animals, transmission on clothing and vehicles, and through the air.

The practice of swill feeding, the traditional name for the feeding of food scraps and other waste material to pigs, has caused FMD outbreaks overseas.

FMD is NOT present in Australia.

Preventing an FMD outbreak

FMD is most likely to enter Australia through illegal imports of meat and dairy products infected with the FMD virus and the subsequent illegal feeding of these products (swill) to pigs.

Evidence of FMD virus was detected in meat confiscated at Australian international airports in 2019 by biosecurity staff of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Strict quarantine, surveillance and biosecurity conditions are in place to prevent FMD entering Australia.

New South Wales and all other Australian states and territories have strict laws that prohibit swill feeding. To help prevent FMD and other serious diseases, domestic and wild pigs must be prevented from eating food scraps. Pig farms, rubbish tips and ports are monitored to make sure that food scraps are not fed to pigs.

FMD preparedness

Australia has an internationally recognised capability to deal quickly and effectively with emergency animal disease outbreaks. NSW has a strong track record of successfully dealing with outbreaks of disease in its animal populations, including the large outbreak of equine influenza in 2007 and the outbreaks of avian influenza in 2012 and 2013.

Both government and industry engage in significant FMD preparedness activities to make sure that if an FMD incursion occurs, it can be contained and controlled as quickly as possible. These activities include detailed contingency planning and a comprehensive whole-of-government approach to make sure resources are available from a wide range of agencies. There is a comprehensive range of plans in place to deal with an FMD outbreak. The Australian Veterinary Plan or AUSVETPLAN is the central plan for controlling and eradicating an outbreak.

The state of preparedness is under continuous review and improvements are constantly being implemented. Exercises are held regularly to test plans and train those who would be involved.

Response if FMD infection detected

If FMD infection is detected in Australian animals, an emergency will be declared under the NSW Biosecurity Act 2015 and emergency procedures will be activated to contain and eradicate the outbreak.

An immediate livestock standstill will be called to help stop further spread of infection. Other measures to eradicate the FMD outbreak would include:

  • tracing the movements of animals, animal products, people and things to identify where infection has spread
  • surveillance to detect infected flocks and herds
  • the humane slaughter and biosecure disposal of infected infected flocks and herds
  • decontamination to destroy the virus
  • other movement controls and enhanced biosecurity to minimise spread of disease.

When the strain of virus causing the outbreak has been confirmed, a vaccination program may be implemented to assist in containing and eradicating the outbreak.