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Food ban may widen in foot and mouth fight

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Officials are reviewing whether to impose a total ban on food products being brought from Indonesia by travellers due to growing concerns over foot and mouth disease.

A Senate inquiry into Australia’s response to the outbreak in Indonesia was told a total ban was possible should the situation worsen.

Travellers are already banned from bringing food products such as meat, and any food items must be declared.

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Agriculture department secretary Andrew Metcalfe told the inquiry on Wednesday the situation with the disease was constantly evolving.

“There have been significant actions taken in relation to food being imported from Indonesia since the outbreak occurred, and many more categories of food unable to be imported,” he said.

“We are constantly reviewing the risk factors associated with any food imports and making changes accordingly.”

The impact on animal-based export products would be significant should foot and mouth disease be detected, the inquiry was told.

While viral fragments of the disease have previously been found in pork products at a Melbourne retailer, Australia remains free of the disease with no live virus being found.

The comments come after the government in July announced a $14 million biosecurity package to bolster frontline measures, including funding for 18 new biosecurity officers at airports and mail centres.

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But the new officers won’t be deployed until the end of September, the inquiry was told, with 45 contractors hired to fill the gaps until recruitment is complete.

Detector dogs have also been put in place at all airports with incoming flights from Indonesia, except for Adelaide where they would be stationed by the end of August, the inquiry was told.

Australia is set to supply Indonesia with one million doses of vaccines for foot and mouth disease, set to arrive later in August.

Mr Metcalfe also told the hearing there were no discussions with other departments about the possibility of closing the border with Indonesia due to the threat of the disease.

The agriculture department said it was first made aware of advice of foot and mouth disease on May 6.

Mr Metcalfe said former agriculture minister David Littleproud did not ask the department to order more vaccines or foot mats to prevent the disease in Australia, following the advice being received.

However, the advice was received during the caretaker period before the federal election.

Mr Metcalfe said both Mr Littleproud and his then-opposition counterpart remained fully briefed at the time.

The risk of the highly contagious disease entering Australia in the next five years has been increased to 11.6 per cent after it spread to Bali.

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– AAP

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