My comments are in red.

Full dress rehearsal for a Babe plague

By Daniel Lewis
September 2 2002



On May 7 at Camden saleyards in south-west Sydney, veterinarian Keith Hart thought the nightmare had begun.

On sale that Tuesday morning was a group of lame pigs, one of which had a lesion on its snout.

"I felt sick," Dr Hart said.

It turned out that the pigs were suffering from a long truck journey and not what he had feared most - foot-and-mouth disease - but these squealing, smelly animals are hot favourites to spark Australia's greatest mobilisation of resources outside war.

The country has not had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease since 1872, but if agriculture's most disastrous scourge slips through the defences of Fortress Australia it could lop at least $2 billion off the gross domestic product, according to Productivity Commission research. At its worst, it would be $13 billion.


Last year, Britain - which had not suffered an outbreak of foot-and-mouth since 1967 - had to slaughter millions of animals to stamp out an epidemic that began with pigs.

Incorrect - Britain had the Isle of Wight outbreak in the meantime. This was incorrectly attributed to wind borne infection. An error that was to cost billions later.

As a direct result of the British experience, Australia's blueprint for fighting an outbreak, Ausvetplan, will be tested next week. More than 1000 people from government, the military and industry will take part in the first national foot-and-mouth epidemic simulation.

The five-day Exercise Minotaur will test the country's ability to cope with something close to a worst-case scenario.

The mainly desk-based operation will ask basic questions such as: Are there enough people in the laboratories to analyse samples? If there is an outbreak in the south-east, can cattle still be exported from the Northern Territory? Does everyone know the computer file-naming convention?

The same strain of the British disease, first identified in India in 1990, has in recent years reached 28 countries, including Japan (foot-and-mouth free since 1908) and South Korea (1934).

Much of Australia is not at high risk because foot-and-mouth is at its most virulent in damp, cool environments. But it has struck in Malaysia, and could easily take hold in most of NSW.

I'm far from convinced that the "damp cool environment" formula is correct. The facts do not seem to support this. Merely repeating it as a mantra is unconvincing.

Ausvetplan says the first case would probably be in pigs, infected through contaminated meat illegally brought into the country.

Yes and No.

"If the infected pigs were wild or belonged to a swill feeder unconcerned about or reluctant to report sick animals, the initial outbreak could well go unnoticed and uncontrolled," it says.

A statement of the obvious. They are even blaming Waugh in the antipodes. Who says Britain has no influence?

A federal parliamentary committee examining Australia's quarantine standards was stunned recently to hear British estimates that up to 100 kilograms of meat have been illegally carried in on international flights.

NFU propaganda. Discredited many times.

In Australia, one man has already been fined a record $8650 this year for bringing in nearly seven kilograms. Many people entering the country have what Animal Health Australia calls a "cultural propensity to carry high-risk food".

That is actually quite correct. The British/Irish/White Commonwealth are probably the biggest smugglers of meat products in the world. Bangers and bacon! Not that it is relevant.

In Sydney, there have been prosecutions for illegal swill feeding and attempts to eliminate the city's feral pig population have been thwarted by pig-hunters restocking breeding colonies.

The Australian Veterinary Association is so concerned it wants a veterinary reserve, similar to the army's, that could rapidly respond to any foot-and-mouth outbreak.

I'm sure they do. It is the khaki that gets them.

As the world's biggest exporter of beef, second-biggest exporter of lamb and mutton, and third-biggest exporter of dairy products, the disease would be a trade disaster for Australia.

Exports of these products total about $10 billion a year - 6 per cent of total exports - and all would be affected by long bans.

While Britain's response last year was a debacle - one report said the army should have been mobilised in the first week - proper action can quickly bring things under control.


A report by the NSW Auditor-General released in May said the state was poorly prepared for an outbreak, identifying "significant" problems in areas such as the number of vets and surveillance of swill feeding.

Swill feeding is unpleasant and sounds bad BUT older readers will well remember the "swill bins" that lasted into the fifties at many street corners. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with swill, although in today's world maybe we can no longer trust the contents for other reasons.

At the federal level, an audit report released last year found that the vast majority of dangerous material coming in through mail or air passengers was passing Australia's borders undetected.

Err. If it was undetected, how did they know?

This is the most common logical error of the "prat brigade." What the report most probably said was that they "thought"... which actually means they "hoped." And they "hoped" because they had a financial interest in publicising a fact that was not true.

QED. The liars are convicted by their own words....and don't tell me about scientists, my dimmest office boy could run rings round most of ours.

But in the wake of the British outbreak, governments have been working feverishly to improve detection in what is now an international trend.

Wrong. Most of them have the matter well in hand. The veterinary profession are making total fools of themselves. Governments stave off criticism by pretending that they are doing something. It is easier and quicker than arguing.

The Howard Government in last year's Budget allocated $596 million over four years to quarantine and customs controls, with the aim of achieving 100 per cent interception.

AUS $ 150M per annum. Peanuts. Most of it probably is going to straightforward smuggling detection.

Early last year less than 5 per cent of international mail was checked. But Australia Post says every item is now covered by two sniffer dogs and an x-ray, turning up the likes of elephant dung and monkey eyeballs.

Ye Gods! We have an international smuggling ring for Elephant dung. The mind boggles

At the state level, NSW Agriculture has created a first-response team of about 100 people from government and industry which could be deployed within 24 hours to control an outbreak.

In March, governments and livestock industries struck a world-first agreement to share the cost of fighting any disease outbreaks.

It guarantees that there will be no quibbling over the size of the bill and who should pay it, and therefore no delay in tackling an outbreak.

The agreement also provides an economic incentive for farmers to report outbreaks, knowing that they will be paid for any animals destroyed.

That is a lesson they have not learned from the UK. You pay compensation to plcs, you will get an outbreak. Yes, I do know what I said.

The events at Camden were a first for Dr Hart in his 28-year-career as a district veterinarian, and it proved to be a textbook response.

The movement of all stock was halted while the pigs and the property they came from were examined. By lunchtime everyone was on their way.

Geoff Mills, a Moss Vale Rural Lands Protection Board ranger who attends every sale day at Camden, made the call to Dr Hart about the pigs.

Mr Mills was one of 160 Australians who went to Britain last year to help with its foot-and-mouth outbreak.

The apocalyptic images of animals burning on huge pyres have left him on high alert.

"It's something I'll never forget," he said. "It broke my heart. I'd rather face the sack for doing the wrong thing than be too scared to act."

If you were in the UK ,dear boy, you probably would. Did you sign anything?

Regards Pat Gardiner