NSW minister for agriculture Dugald Saunders said he would propose the urgent development of mandatory electronic identification tags for sheep and goats during a meeting with all Australian agriculture ministers on Wednesday afternoon.
FMD, which attacks cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, pigs, goats and sheep, is now in the neighbouring nation of Indonesia, raising the likelihood of the infectious virus entering Australia for the first time in more than 130 years, Xinhua news agency reported.
Saunders estimated an outbreak of the crippling disease could potentially cost the national economy 80 billion Australian dollars (about 55.2 billion US dollars) and “send shockwaves through regional communities for years to come.”
“Individual traceability for sheep and goats will be crucial during an emergency disease outbreak and deliver benefits across the supply chain,” he said.
All Australian cattle already have ear tags, but millions of sheep and goats do not, which means that a quickly spreading outbreak among those animals would be harder to trace.
Saunders warned that a national tagging system for sheep and goats would take time to implement, so it is important to start the conversation.
NSW has the nation’s largest number of sheep with more than 21 million, while Victoria has 17 million and Western Australia (WA) has 14 million, according to a report on Tuesday from the national broadcaster ABC.
Describing the tagging proposal, Saunders said the NSW government would work with farmers and livestock industry representatives to develop a practical system that works for them.
The scheme has already been endorsed by Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson who said the agricultural industry needed to support such a national program to prevent the spread of exotic livestock diseases.
“To make sure the entire country is prepared for an outbreak like FMD, we need to act now to start the process of developing a national electronic identification system for sheep and goats,” Hutchinson said.