AN incorrect diagnosis of Brucellosis crippled Michael Blake’s Galloway stud herd in 1982, and put a fire in his belly to improve the country’s biosecurity standards that has burned for 30 years.
“It was a wrongful diagnosis, it was administered by an aggressive stock inspector and the proper biosecurity protocols weren’t being implemented,” Mr Blake said.
“Our Galloway stud never recovered.
“The people that had the knowledge didn’t have enough knowledge.”
The financially shocking biosecurity response triggered an obsession for Mr Blake, of Bally Glunin Park, in Victoria’s Western District, who is Australia’s first biosecurity farmer of the year.
He has set his sights on improving the country’s ability to identify and respond to foot-and-mouth disease after recently returning from FMD training in Kathmandu, Nepal – a country where FMD is endemic.
“It is not ‘if’ we have an outbreak of FMD but ‘when’ we have an outbreak,” Mr Blake said.
The training program, KTC 20, is funded by Department of Agriculture, WoolProducers Australia, European Union and United Nations, aimed to train people strategically placed around Australia to help identify and coordinate control of FMD, and eradicate the disease.
During the Nepal trip, attendees visited farms to identify animals with the disease, estimate when the outbreak occurred on the property and tracked the animal’s movements prior to and post contamination.
“Our field work included collecting information on demographics from infected farms and neighbours, identify the number of livestock contaminated and look at cultural events as sources of introduction,” he said.
“We then reviewed the financial losses of farmers from lost production, death of animals and question the farmers on their knowledge of the disease.”
What was identified was FMD contaminated sheep, and entered Nepal from India and spread throughout the Kathmandu region during a religious festival.
However, it was when Mr Blake returned from the study trip his FMD work really began.
“I’m concerned with the lack of attention through customs, without a flag on my return I could easily have walked through without decontamination,” he said.
“My body was a source of spreading FMD for seven days after the field trips.”
He has since made a recommendation to the Department of Agriculture to include a clause on the entry immigration card asking visitors if they had walked through specific areas, such as endemic FMD countries.
“Since my return I have spoken to five walkers who had recently returned from walking through Nepal and none had their footwear decontaminated at customs,” Mr Blake said.
His trip coincided with the release of a damning report which revealed Australia’s sheep industry would struggle to respond to a potential exotic outbreak.
Animal Health Australia Sheepcatcher II report, which reviewed a trial which tracked 60 sheep and goats, revealed only 77 per cent could be back-traced to a property using the National Livestock Identification System database, and only 40pc to their subsequent movements, such as saleyards and abattoirs.
Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, in 2011, estimated a large 12 month outbreak of FMD would cost $16 billion.
“Australia could not handle an FMD outbreak because of the slow tracking process,” Mr Blake said.
“If it could not be isolated and zoned, FMD could shut exports down.
“Introduction of foot and mouth disease into Australia is an ever present risk.
“The most probably introduction would occur through peoples lack of knowledge - I’m quite terrified of contamination in Australia.”