Skin Deep Issues Updated: LSD and Aus – Indo Relationships

The original article was published on Beef Central on 6/9/23

The days following the publication of the above article in Beef Central the Australian Government officials visited Indonesia and were able to negotiate a resumption of trade including to the 7 suspended facilities. On the 9th Sept 2023 criteria was established to resume trade, but there remain some issues with the conditions.

The conditions that were agreed on are (without any further detail published):

  1. Australia conducts early detection of LSD in all livestock facilities and meets all animal health protocol requirements from importing countries;
  2. Australia will ensure the health condition of the cattle before exporting them to Indonesia. Indonesia and Australia, within 3 (three) months, will review the Health Requirements;
  3. Australia will provide periodic reports to Indonesia on targeted surveillance results as part of Australia’s national LSD Surveillance program;
  4. Australia agrees to share information with Indonesia regarding biosecurity treatment on vessels for livestock export;
  5. Indonesia will implement the BARANTAN prior notice system for live animal imports, where exporters provide information on each shipment;
  6. Australia will submit a program proposal for a joint investigation of the 7 suspended livestock facilities (premises);
  7. Australia routinely conducts animal disease surveillance to provide assurance on the health status of its animals and reports to the World Organization for Animal Health and the Government of Indonesia, and publishes a quarterly surveillance report;
  8. Indonesia will immediately revoke the suspension of 7 (seven) premises, after signing the agreement; And
  9. Indonesia will provide information to Australia if an animal sent from Australia is positive for LSD and if there is any other non-compliance with the live animal protocol.

There next steps to address this issue will be a visit to Australian by Indonesian officials, and then following that a visit by Australian technical experts to Indonesia to examine the testing facilities. It is believed that almost all positive results came from one laboratory, although this has not been confirmed. If this is true then a system error in either collection or processing would account for this statistical discrepancy.

While Australian exports have resumed there are ongoing issues as the Australian Government has maintained a low risk approach to the issue. All cattle that have skin lesions are being rejected for export to ALL destinations by Australian government veterinarians as part of the system to reduce trade disruption risks. This can be around 30% on some properties due to fly bites, old ringworm, damaged hides, or other skin blemishes.

This restriction includes to other countries like Vietnam that have not expressed any concerns about LSD or rejected any cattle with lesions, and that don’t have routine testing in place. Vietnam first reported the virus in November 2020 and we watched it move through mainland South East Asia and emerged in Thailand and Laos in 2021. It was always inevitable that it would move to Indonesia but there was little coordinated response or reaction from Australia or other nations until it arrived in Indonesia in March 2022.

Movement of virus in Asia based of official reports to WOAH. Credit: Alta Food and Agriculture

The current situation in Indonesia is already having a huge impact on Australian producers in the north and is another blow to the live export sector. In my opinion we still fail to understand how Indonesia, and Asia in general, works. Or more specifically we rely too heavily on political solutions to trade issues. There is a clear breakdown in political trust and our lack of genuine Australian presence overseas is being felt.

As a brief update on what has transpired over the last year. Indonesia began getting LSD infections in March 2022 which had spread rapidly from Malaysia across the archipelago. The regional and Indonesian weather results in winds blowing east from December-March which then flip to the monsoons blowing from June through September. So the main reason we haven’t seen much movement of LSD in Indonesia and the reason it is unlikely to be in Australia is due to the direction the wind has been blowing.

Since that time we taught them how to identify LSD through a number of diagnostic techniques, including by identifying skin lesions. The Indonesians are now identifying animals on arrival with skin lesions, and flagging them as possible LSD cases. When they are then tested several days later, a small percentage test positive. Of course those animals likely contracted the disease after arrival or in response to vaccination.

Several quarantine yards in Australia were closed as more animals were observed with skin lesions and tested positive for LSD. There still appears to be no direct political agenda in the response by Indonesia. I have heard one industry member describe it as ‘providing someone with a gun and then getting surprised when they shoot you’. My concern is that we may have taken out the bullets, but they still have the gun…

The Australian response has largely been a technical and governance led approach to resolving the issue. And for those in high governance organizations like the Australian Government, this is the correct and logical diplomatic approach. We saw evidence of this approach with the initial response as testing of cattle in Australia, and we have seen it again with the position on selecting cattle without skin lesions.

Testing cattle routinely is not feasible. And the rejection rates present an issue for producers in Australia.

The downturn in the live export market means that these animals don’t have a home anyway, which is a problem in itself. If there is anything positive from this, it is that this should be the shot over the bow that northern Australian farmers need. The largest risk to the live export trade is no longer from the Australian Government shutting down the trade from animal welfare issues. It is market acceptance and need for live animals at all.

Where did all the Australians go?

If the reliance on the government is not the solution then what is? Following the events in 2011, the Australian industry presence grew overnight. There was a high level of oversight of operations and improvements of facilities. This lasted for the next 10 years as many of these young people found partners, learn Bahasa Indonesian, lived for periods of time in supply chains, MLA had Australian born staff in management, and their was investment made into this. But the trade has experienced the impacts of COVID on travel, the loss of some key people living in Indonesia through retirement or movement into other positions, there has been reduced profit which has reduced exporter budgets for staff, and more recently we have seen a drop in consumer demand in the traditional distribution sector. MLA, exporters, and the Australian training programs have likewise empowered local Indonesians, and this is a great thing, and they do a great job.

But the simple truth is that we need to maintain and invest in growing Australian presence and relationships in Indonesia. Indonesian provincial vets are not getting any information from Australia about what is happening. And when those local vets, who are making an income off testing, are getting information from Australia reports are they are not feeling respected. In the past a dinner or long existing relationships may have been able to solve these issues before this point of escalation.

The imminent loss of the Red Meat and Cattle Partnership (RMCP) is also a huge concern as it was the remaining large investment that was focused on the industry. The $60 mill program was not beyond criticism and often acted without full transparency of their programs (in my opinion) but it was still a vital investment and something that united the two countries efforts and investment in the red meat space.

For all of Australia’s geographical advantages to Asia, Australia has a small footprint of people living in the entire region. Business is done face to face from long term relationships. And all the key trading partners China, Japan, France, Germany, Netherlands, all run very controlled international businesses in Asia because they have their own staff physically present to manage and oversee operations.

I am not sure how to navigate the way out of this situation politically. But there is a lot to be said about listening and spending time to understand where the other person is coming from. And what their needs really are. And not at the top level of politics, this also needs to happen with the vets on the ground who are making the decisions about which animals have disease.

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