The risk of foot and mouth disease (FMD) entering Australian shores has reportedly doubled in recent weeks.
And although continuous work is being done focusing on preparedness and risk mitigation specifically for the wool trade, experts admit no amount of preparatory work could set the industry up for what to expect in the event of an incursion
FMD can survive from days to weeks in wool harvested from infected sheep.
But according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OiE), with the implementation of fumigation or heat treatment, the disease can be destroyed.
In 2019 an outbreak of FMD in South Africa resulted in the suspension of imports by China, including wool.
Exports could only resume once several new measures were implemented as required by China.
The disease resurfaced in South Africa in April this year, caused by illegal movements of animals out of FMD controlled zones in Limpopo eventually ravaging five provinces.
During the three-year period between outbreaks, the wool industry's peak national policy and advocacy body for wool growers, WoolProducers Australia (WPA), were in discussions with South Africa's Cape Wools and BKB in an effort to learn from the country's 2019 outbreak.
WPA is the wool industry's signatory to the Emergency Response Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA) - the contract between Federal and State governments and industries for whom they would handle a response to an outbreak.
WPA CEO Jo Hall said it also incorporates preparedness activities and as a signatory they have obligations to prepare industry for an Emergency Animal Disease (EAD) incursion.
"We take this position seriously, focusing on preparedness and risk mitigation for the wool industry " Ms Hall said.
"The lessons that Australia has to learn from South Africa is that mitigation planning is essential and scenario modelling for the worst possible case allows checks and balances to be put in place.
"You have to do this prior to the crisis, and that is what we are trying to do."
Ms Hall said there are no set times that a trading partner would accept Australian wool after an incursion of FMD.
"We would be at the behest of our trading partners," Ms Hall said.
"They have to be satisfied within themselves that it is no longer a risk."
During their discussions with South Africa, WPA learnt wool stores implemented time and temperature based treatment to eradicate the disease.
"The South Africans went to great expense to heat their wool stores to treat their wool in the hope to return to trading as soon as possible," Ms Hall said.
"Unlike a perishable good, wool doesn't have to be destroyed.
"If wool is heated to a certain temperature and for a certain period of time it is safe to assume that wool was no longer a risk."
The OiE indicates that in an FMD outbreak, contaminated wool should be stored at 4°C for four months, 18°C for four weeks or 37°C for eight days to eliminate the risk of FMD transmission through export.
Ms Hall said she believes Australia is relatively well prepared if an outbreak hits our shores.
"The fact that we have contracts between government and industry outlining cost sharing, roles and responsibilities places us in a pretty good position," she said.
"Early detection is critical to eradicate the disease.
"However, there are so many variables if an FMD incursion is to happen in Australia - such as where the outbreak initiated, how far it spread before it's noticed.
"No amount of preparatory work could actually set us up for what to expect in the event of an incursion, but we will keep trying to be as prepared as possible."
Ms Hall said WPA are still in contact with South Africa, and will look to have ongoing discussions once they have a better handle on its current outbreak.
South Africa is now back trading wool, but China is still not accepting its products.
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