BEEF exporters are frantically attempting to calm concerns among overseas customers about Australia's foot and mouth disease status as misperception, and in fact misinformation, around the relevance of inactive viral fragments found at airports and in retail continue to spread.
Industry leaders say inaccurate headlines claiming FMD has been detected in Australia are potentially doing enormous damage to Australia's international reputation.
There are also fears about the panic feeding into the cattle market, with the benchmark Eastern Young Cattle Indicator taking yet another dive overnight to sit now at 947 cents a kilogram carcase weight, more than 100c on where it was four weeks ago.
Red Meat Industry Council chair John McKillop said: "Let me be clear and emphatic, Australia remains free from foot and mouth disease, lumpy skin disease and African Swine Fever.
"Viral fragments of FMD and ASF were detected during routine testing by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. They did not find live virus and this is not in any way indicative of a disease incursion."
"Some of the media headlines are disappointingly misleading and, in some instances, plain wrong, and potentially damaging to Australia's international reputation.
"Nobody takes the threat posed by these diseases more seriously than the livestock industries and people whose livelihoods depend on maintaining our disease-free status. It's why Australia has some of the strictest biosecurity protocols in the world, world leading lifetime traceability systems and some of the most comprehensive and well-rehearsed plans in place to deal with an emergency disease outbreak, should we ever have to face that test."
Mr McKillop also made the point that the detection of viral fragments was evidence that these systems and processes were working.
That was backed by scientists, with Professor Tim Mahony, from the Centre for Animal Science at the University of Queensland, saying there was no chance the fragments detected could have led to an incursion in Australia.
"The issue is if the material is positive even for fragments, there is always the risk that if all the virus had not been deactivated it would be infectious," he said.
Prof Mahony said FMD represented one of the highest threats to Australia's livestock industries, however, the threat was not new and Australia had, over many years, developed a detailed response plan should the virus be detected here.
Underpinning the success of plans was detecting the virus as soon as possible if an incursion occurred, he said.
Big concerns have been raised about whether Australia would have any chance at controlling FMD should it make its way into the feral pig population in the north.
Prof Mahony said that would certainly be the worst case scenario.
"Australia has been trying to deal with those pig populations for years - it is very difficult and very expensive," he said.
"If we have an incursion of FMD in the south, we have a good chance of determining quickly when it came in, how it came in and where it might have gone.
"The earlier we do those three things, the more chance we have of controlling it and that gives us the potential to not lock down the whole country."
In a way, the COVID pandemic had prepared Australia for FMD, Prof Mahoney said.
"People are more aware of viruses, diagnostic assays, epidemiology and similar concepts that will apply to controlling FMD," he said.
"As with the pandemic all Australians have a role to play in minimising this threat. Susceptible animals are not imported into Australia, the most likely scenario of FMD getting into the country is someone bringing it in. This is why we have such strong biosecurity at our international borders."