Unless Australia takes drastic action to ban travel from Indonesia, foot and mouth disease will bring the nation's economy to its knees, warns one farmer who knows first-hand the damage that the virus will bring.
Banning travel is "only commonsense" says Charollais sheep breeder Kevin Feakins who with his wife Gina, a breeder of Gypsy Cob ponies, lived through the horrific outbreak of FMD in Britain during 2001.
"This country is already behind the eight-ball," said the farmer from Cudgee via Warrnambool, and formerly from Glencoe near Glen Innes.
"The federal government should have already put in place a temporary ban on tourism to Indonesia. It is not if FMD comes to Australia but when and then it will shut down the whole economy, not just a few livestock farmers."
The Feakins moved to Australia after their experience with FMD in Hereford Shire, where their property was the 11th outbreak in the country .
For the following six months they were not allowed to leave their farmhouse under penalty of imprisonment.
"One ministry vet told us we could carry the virus in the back of our throats for four weeks. That was why we had to stay at home."
The virus appeared much like COVID, out of the blue.
"They soon discovered that the postman brought with him on his boots, and the meter man carried it on his tyres," Mr Feakins explained. "Within a couple weeks 20 farms in a radius of 20 miles were infected.
If you thought COVID was bad, you wait for FMD- Sheep breeder Kevin Feakins
"I think this government now is being very blasé. They need to stop travel unless it is critical. I couldn't go to the funeral of my father during COVID and yet FMD will trump the pandemic by a mile.
From February to November 2001 the Feakins lived a nightmare that assaulted all the senses.
Their total livestock herd was shot by ministry of agriculture veterinarians and in the first instance piled in a shed. As the traumatic experience affected those in charge as much as those on the ground, the Feakins had to deal with the arrival of four veterinarians in as many weeks with the first quitting his post, the second walking off with mental stress and the third laid up with heart attack.
Before a decision could be made on the rotting pile of bodies in the shed their bodily fluids had leaked out from under the cladding.
"The stench was just awful. We called it the smell of death and we will never forget that," Mr Feakins said.
Eventually a call was made to burn all the dead animals in a great pyre using railway sleepers and tyres and "tanker loads of diesel" to ignite the wet mess but with all the rain that fell from grey skies the fire wouldn't take and so the pyre smouldered for weeks until at last the problem was buried in a great maw in one of their paddocks.
During the last action some animals from neighbouring farms were buried in the same pit and the Feakins were able to claim government compensation based on the old law of trespass. As a result these Hereford Shire farmers were among the fortunate ones to be able to rebuild their lives.
"At the time the government was not in support of farmers in Britain," said Mr Feakins. "They wanted us out."
Meanwhile, the FMD crisis brought the entire country to a standstill, with the price of lambs falling from 80 pounds a head to 10 pounds almost overnight as all export markets were closed.
"If you thought COVID was bad, you wait for FMD," Mr Feakins said. "Everything shut down. Nobody moved. Here in Australia we will see borders shut between states. It is likely the disease will become endemic in all the feral animal populations and we will never get rid of it and our markets will suffer.
"I liken the farmer to a sow with heaps of fleas on her back. If the sow dies the fleas die. It's as simple as that.
"It is cheaper to send veterinarians and experience to their country than to spend $80 billion in Australia clearing up the shit," he said. "It is imperative we curtail travel now. We should have done that a month ago."
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