Senators Concerned over FMD Virus

20 December 2011, at 8:57am

AUSTRALIA - A Senate inquiry has voiced "serious concerns" about Australia's ability to respond quickly to an outbreak of the highly contagious livestock virus, foot-and-mouth disease.

TheCanberraTimes reports that an interim report by the Senate rural affairs committee has warned evidence heard by the inquiry suggested the Federal Department of Agriculture lacks the resources to respond quickly to a national emergency.

According to the department's website, a quickly controlled minor outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease would cost the Australian economy about A$7billion, while a serious 12- month outbreak would cost at least A$16 billion. The 2001 outbreak in Britain caused losses exceeding A$16 billion, with many farmers struggling to recover from financial losses and psychological trauma.

The inquiry, which is investigating Australia's quarantine and biosecurity controls, has recommended the department overhaul its communication databases.

The report said the inquiry heard evidence from primary produce exporters claiming the department failed to contact or involve peak horticulture groups in discussions over new quarantine inspection fees and charges for export certificates.

Other sectors, including some fisheries, dairy and refrigerated storage industry groups, were unaware new fees were being introduced.

"The committee believed that consultation was taking place across all industry sectors ... [and] is therefore disappointed to learn the reforms - including increased fees and charges - appear to have come as a complete surprise to a number of companies and small businesses," the interim report said.

It said the department's "current inability to quickly contact all members of a specific industry sector" called into question the Government's ability to respond to a national emergency, like a disease outbreak.

"The committee is seriously concerned that in the event of an emergency - such as an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease - DAFF [Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry] does not have the means to contact all stake-holders quickly and provide advice in a timely manner," the report said.

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