Foot and mouth disease found in Australian meat products, Biosecurity NZ reassures no heightened risk to NZ

As foot and mouth disease creeps closer to New Zealand's border, Biosecurity NZ has reassured Kiwis that there is no heightened risk of the industry decimating disease to NZ.

The disease has been recently found in Bali and on Wednesday Australian officials confirmed fragments have been detected in meat products across the ditch.

Foot and mouth disease (FMD), not to be confused with hand, foot, and mouth disease, is a highly contagious viral disease in livestock, causing fever followed by blisters mainly in cloven-hoofed animals' mouths and feet.

The disease doesn't affect other animals, such as rodents, cats, dogs, birds or horses, and infections from animals to humans is extremely rare.

While it generally isn't fatal for adult animals, the disease has serious economic consequences.

According to The Age, just one positive case of foot and mouth on an Australian farm could shut the $27 billion livestock export trade down for months or even years, with a massive outbreak estimated to cost $80 billion.

Biosecurity NZ modelling revealed that if the disease made its way onto our shores our economy could take a $10 billion hit - forcing the country into a recession.

FMD disease was recently found in Bali and is now in several products in Melbourne.

Fortunately, Australian officials have confirmed that no live FMD virus has been found in food, rather viral fragments were found in some pork products.

"Australian officials said today viral fragments had been found on some pork product. They have told us that what was found in the food was not live virus, but a trace viral fragment," Biosecurity NZ deputy director general Stuart Anderson said in a statement.  

"Viral fragments are not infectious and could not transfer live virus to another animal. It is not unusual for non-infectious viral fragments to be found in food."

The product the fragments were found in was an imported dried "pork floss" that may have been illegally imported to Australia and is being recalled as a precaution for that reason.

Anderson said any illegal product found in New Zealand would be destroyed.

"There's no indication that there is a heightened risk to New Zealand.  We have among the strictest import health standards and biosecurity settings in the world for pork and other meat products coming into New Zealand," Anderson said.

"Pork floss can be legally imported to countries like New Zealand and Australia if it follows strict import health standards, such as the use of heat treatment.

"As an extra precaution Biosecurity New Zealand will undertake market surveillance to double check product available here is legally imported."

Anderson said travellers to New Zealand are not allowed to bring in uncooked meat products and since FMD was found in Indonesia, they have stepped up their border work to prevent it from arriving in Aotearoa.

Every passenger arrival card is examined and those from countries that have FMD are directed to a different process of questioning, baggage search and disinfection. This means that should passengers transit other airports, risks are still addressed, Anderson said.

This week, biosecurity began using foot mats with disinfecting chemicals for arrivals from Indonesia to help ensure footwear is clean of the virus.

Mail products from Indonesia are being X-rayed and checked by dogs, and quarantine officers are checking cargo containers from Indonesia.

"We are committed to constantly reassessing our multi-layered biosecurity settings as we have done in recent weeks with regard to FMD," Anderson said. "Those settings include risk assessments of all arrivals and cargo, 100 percent screening of all checked in and cabin baggage, detector dogs and very strong import health standards."

Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor said in a statement that measures have been put in place to further protect New Zealand from FMD, as well as a significant boost to biosecurity investments including $110.9 million in this year's Budget. 

"[From the Budget] $21.2 million is to boost critical diagnostic, surveillance and investigative capability, and heightened readiness for foot-and-mouth and other high-impact animal diseases," O'Connor said.

There have currently been no flights directly from Bali or elsewhere in Indonesia to New Zealand.

O'Connor strongly urges anyone who has been in contact with livestock in Indonesia to stay away from farms and animals in New Zealand for one week.

If anyone sees their pigs, goats, alpacas, llamas, cattle, sheep or deer with symptoms including high fever, mouth and feet blisters or erosions and lameness, they should call their veterinarian or MPI's exotic pest and disease hotline (0800 80 99 66).

"We'll continue to work closely with our Australian counterparts and primary sector partners, and I thank them for their work to raise FMD awareness," O'Connor said.

"Our primary sector earned New Zealand a record $52.2 billion this year and is forecast to reach $56.8 billion by 2026. It's essential that our world-class biosecurity systems are continually improving so we can maintain this growth."