FMD and LSD : Lots of talk but no meaningful action.

Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) infection in Indonesia was officially announced on the 3rd March 2022. Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) infection was officially declared on the 12th of April 2022.

Since that time, 4 months for LSD and 3 months for FMD, action to control both diseases has been slow, uncoordinated, under-funded and generally ineffective. For both diseases the most effective control method is vaccination. In both cases the vaccination response has been disappointing to say the least.

Sometime in the middle of June 3 million doses of FMD vaccine were imported into Indonesia. The government announced that 800,000 doses were distributed on the 22nd of June with vaccinations commencing on the 25th. The balance of the vaccine, 2.2 million doses is still sitting in the fridge in Jakarta as of the 15th of July. Nobody seems to know why it can’t be distributed to farmers who are desperate to protect their stock from the FMD wildfire which continues to spread rapidly through the archipelago. On the 14th of July, following a meeting with the Indonesian Minister for Agriculture, Senator Watt, the Australian Minister agreed to send 1 million doses of FMD vaccine to Indonesia in August as well as $500,000 for training of personnel.

Both diseases can only be controlled in this environment with strong vaccination programs. Assuming a cattle herd of say 12 million with 3 doses of FMD vaccine needed in the first year, Indonesia needs 36 million doses just for their cattle population. This doesn’t account for millions of sheep, goats and pigs. One official estimate is that there are 65 million susceptible animals in Indonesia that need vaccine protection.  And LSD is so far off the radar it doesn’t even get a mention.

The risk that FMD will come to Australia is high and getting higher. LSD is definitely coming because regardless of our biosecurity measures, we are not capable of controlling the movement of insect vectors. Bali is now infected with FMD and hosting skyrocketing numbers of Aussie tourists. With minimal vaccination in Bali, the risk of transmission is high and rising. Rome is burning and the fire is in the neighbour’s house. The great fire of Rome started in Circus Maximus on the 19th of July 64 AD. Nero didn’t actually play the fiddle during the fire, but it appears he did little to control the blaze.

Australia needs to do more to protect itself from the FMD wildfire. I don’t doubt that our government is trying but I also expect that the Indonesian government simply doesn’t have the same level of urgency. They don’t export large volumes of products that might lose their market access due to FMD so what’s the rush?  Indonesia is establishing their own vaccine manufacturing plant which should be operational in about 3-6 months’ time. MLA collects $5 from every domestic cow transaction and about $3 from every bovine export so there are plenty of producer funds to do something if there is a collective will.  

Given the apparent lack of a coherent plan, Greg Pankhurst, a long-time player in the Indonesian beef industry, has put together a brief plan and budget to deliver a full vaccination cover for Bali, i.e. 4 doses in 12 months. It involves the establishment of 50 vaccination teams and their support resources. The back of the envelope cost is in the order of AUD$32 million.  Assuming that this was accepted by the Indonesian government it has potential to bring the risk of FMD transmission from Bali to Australia from red hot to minimal, just like the rest of Asia. This would obviously require subsequent years of booster vaccines and would logically be combined with delivery of the LSD vaccine at the same time (but not included in the estimate). $32 million in one year might sound a lot but if you look at it as an insurance policy to prevent FMD coming to Australia at a cost of $32 billion suggesting a benefit-cost ratio of 1,000, that looks like money well spent.

Rome is burning and the fire is in the house next door. We need to do more than offer our neighbour a bucket of water or our house will surely catch fire next. A lot more action is required urgently.

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